“When the tea came it was of a strength and darkness that reminded one more of meat extract than of some delicate infusion of leaves from India or Ceylon. James sipped his cautiously as if afraid that it might poison him.” (The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym)
One always has a list of books in the back of one’s mind that are sure picks: books that are just like a favorite author, recommended by several trustworthy sources. Somehow, though the reading experience is guaranteed, one almost never gets around to reading them. Like the sureness of the bet diminishes the curiosity that drives one to read. Just as re-reading should be saved for times when one needs comfort, so should these pre-approved books. Barbara Pym was definitely one of these authors for me, both because of Nancy Pearl’s enthusiastic recommendation and this lovely article.
This must mean that my idea of a guaranteed book is one in which the day-to-day lives of selfish, elegant, middle-aged British women are described slowly, with light prose and dry wit. Which is 100% true. Give me a Wodehouse, Benson, Gibbons, Waugh, (and now Pym) on any cold, overcast day, and I will be a happier person. I can think of nothing more comforting than spending a day reading about a world where there is always a neighbor good enough to offer a cup of tea when one is too weary to go on.
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Length: 200 pgs
Ending: unexpected and in-character. Satisfyingly, no lessons are learned, and all middle-aged people maintain their dignity.
Incidental Learning: 1970’s london culture, antiques
Further Reading: Though the writing style is very similar to 1920’s authors like E.F. Benson, Barbara Pym reminds me a lot of Donna Tart because both authors attempt to combine their smooth, almost outdated, writing styles with up to the moment details. Whenever Tart mentions drugs, or Pym jeans, I feel like I’m reading an anachronistic detail added in by an unscrupulous editor.