I’ve been forced to rest in bed for the past week or so to recuperate from a relatively minor operation. The first few days I couldn’t seem to get awake enough to read, but fortunately things are picking up a bit now, and, as reading is about all I’m able to do, I’ve been reading voraciously.
I took Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past into the hospital with me. There’s always so much hanging around before and after, even with day surgery. I was hoping it would be engrossing enough to keep my mind off the upcoming ordeal and pleasantly distracted. It was. Plenty of cold and chill and nordic noir here: one thing’s for sure when I read, or watch on television, Scandinavian Mysteries, I always think my life could be a lot harder – just look at what happens in Sweden and that’s not even including the foul weather. This is the fourth book I’ve read in Larsson’s series about prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson, and in this one there’s the addition of the perspective of the murdered girl as she flits about as a ghost stirring up those as yet unaware of her murder and telling us her story. I’ll admit to being dubious at first, but this technique had the advantage of enlisting the sympathy and empathy of the reader at a visceral as well as intellectual level.
Home again, once I could stay awake long enough, I was still only up to comfort reading. Fortunately I had a pile on by bedside table, I’ve recently been re-reading Maud Hart Lovelace’s marvellous Betsy-Tacy series. Originally published in the States in the forties and fifties, it consists of 10 books in all (with 3 “Connectors” to read once you’ve finished with the original set), so there is plenty of joy here for the Land of Counterpane.
Like the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this series ages with the reader so that whilst Betsy-Tacy, the first in the series, is easily read as an early chapter book by or to a 5-7 year old, Betsy and the Great World and Betsy’s Wedding were written for the young adult market as we follow Betsy on her Great Tour in 1914 to Munich, Oberammergau, Sonneberg, Venice, Lucerne, Paris and London. It’s a wonderful description of boat and train travel by a young American woman from Minnesota getting her first taste of the Old World and independent living in January 1914. The start of WW1 does indeed curtail Betsy’s travels (as it did in reality Maud’s) as she scampers like so many fellow Americans to escape London and return to her family stateside.
Like Wilder, Lovelace is tapping into her own experiences as a child, teenager and young woman in this series. Much is biographical, and in Betsy and the Great World she used her own letters back to family and those of her sister (who made a similar trip a few years previously) to get the right facts and feel. The older books are charmingly illustrated by Vera Neville, and I simply cannot recommend the entire series highly enough. Growing up in England, I wasn’t lucky enough to read them “at the right age,” but I read them with my daughter when she was, and fell under their charm just as she did. They’re desert island books for me: they never fail to comfort; they ooze with traditions and references you can adopt into your own family life and they give you a road map to follow in your own literary life. I can assure you the series is just the right thing for the sick room: starts out light and episodic and continues on to an unputdownable finale in Betsy’s Wedding. The only negative is hunting down all the copies, but fortunately they’re available as reasonably priced paperbacks even here in the UK with lots of additional information and relevant photos from Lovelace’s own life. Finally, if you’re up to watching a DVD you can listen for Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly (who surely runs the children’s bookshop of our dreams) in You’ve Got Mail praise the series to Annabel F-O-X (Fox): Nora Ephron is apparently a Betsy-Tacy fan too.