And as one of the immortal Goons said half a century ago, I’m still wearing my little summer cotton ones. Sorry, guys, too much information there. But you’ve got to love the Goons...
OK, that dates me. I’m old enough to remember the Goons. Anyone have a problem with that? I don’t. Well, only a small one, every time I look in the mirror and wonder how things came to such a pass. I mean, when I was eighteen, I was going to live forever. Isn’t everyone when they’re eighteen? I should have seen the shape of things to come right then, the day a theatre make-up artist painted my face to make it look as if I was sixty... If you think Hallowe’en was scary, you should have been there.
None of which was what I planned to post about today. But it’s cold, touching zero cold, for the first time this year: ice on the windscreen, dustbin lid frozen down cold. And the heating in my workspace has chosen today to turn temperamental on me; I just hope it doesn’t decide to take a permanent hike to wherever dead heating finishes up. So my brain is a little frozen around the edges.
And when it’s cold, persons of my terrifyingly advanced years look for comfort. At the moment, hot coffee and the chocolate chip minis I baked in case of trick-or-treaters. They stayed away, even the small boys next door who planted a tombstone in their front garden, so we have a tinful of very more-ish cookies the size of a twenty pence piece in the UK, probably a nickel in the US of A, which since the Brexit vote is worth about the same, and we have to finish them or they’ll go stale.
For me, comfort also means getting lost in a good book. Which led me to wonder, when I saw this morning that a major international publisher is about to launch a website which ‘recommends’ books to readers (come on, guys, how transparent can a marketing ploy be?), what, exactly, constitutes comfort reading: the hot chocolate book equivalent for cold weather. And conversely, how the dedicated reader goes about extending the boundaries of comfort by finding new authors to add to the list of tried and trusted favourites, who will sometime inevitably not be there when they’re needed.
I have a book wishlist, which goes out on request to anyone who is generous enough to want to mark my passing years with a gift. At the moment it contains fifteen names which have three or more book titles next to them, and a further twenty-one names with one or two titles. Yes, it’s a long list. (There’s also a short supplementary list of books I’ve read but don’t own, and would like to, to fill gaps in series; they’re all by different authors, who are all rich and famous enough not to miss the royalty payment on one book, so I look for those any time I’m in a second-hand bookshop. Sorry, is that too much information too?)
The fifteen names include some of my favourites. Not all of them; for instance I’m up to date with my top two go-to-in-any-circumstances reads, Phil Rickman and J D Robb, so their new titles are on a third list which contains books I’d like as soon as they’re available in paperback. (I don’t have shelf space for hardbacks, even if I could afford to buy them.) The fifteen are authors I discovered when their careers were already well established, so I haven’t caught up with their backlist yet.
They key word there is discovered. Because today’s big question is where do we discover new authors to add to our wish lists?
I’m lucky; I review for an e-zine, the editor of which sends me a list of available books twice a month. I freely confess I do tend to home in on those fifteen names (and the twenty-one too) if they’re there, but they often aren’t; the last two or three lists have consisted of authors I’ve tried and not got along with and other authors whose names are unfamiliar. So I get to add names to my wishlist by homing in on the unfamiliar when it’s handed to me on a plate, or at least an Adobe file.
And friends recommend. And occasionally the weekend newspapers publish a review which arouses my interest. And I browse bookshops. Of course I do. Real bookshops, that is. I’m physically incapable of walking past one, and once I’m inside some strange power takes me over and I find I’m at the cashdesk with three volumes in one hand and a debit card in the other.
But mostly it’s those lists of books for review. I don’t know what appeals to me; there’s little on the lists but titles and authors’ names. And sometimes I don’t get what I expect. But of those fifteen names, more than half are a direct result of books I chose from those lists.
I have a lot of backlist to catch up on. So, as winter draws on and curling up in an armchair with a good book becomes an increasingly attractive way to spend an hour, or two, or seven, I can take comfort in both the books I’m already comfortable with and the knowledge that yet more comfort is there waiting to be found.