Monday, May 2, 2016

What Book Do You Reach For?

Photo via here

"I must have dropped off to sleep at this point, for the next thing I knew was that I had been woken up by the sound of the front door banging. I switched on the light and saw that it was ten minutes to one. I hoped the Napiers were not going to keep late hours and have noisy parties. Perhaps I was getting spinsterish and 'set' in my ways, but I was irritated at being woken. I stretched out my hand towards the little bookshelf where I kept cookery and devotional books, the most comforting bedside reading. My hand might have chosen 'Religio Medici,' but I was rather glad that it had picked out 'Chinese Cookery' and I was soon soothed into drowsiness." -- Barbara Pym, Excellent Women

What book do you reach for when you want a soothing read at night? I just finished rereading Excellent Women and I have always smiled at the passage above. For me there is no book as comforting or soothing. I have read it many times and each time I see something new and wonderful. This time the ending surprised me with its promise for the heroine Mildred. I had always thought that because she had no other suitors she was resigning herself to a relationship with the anthropologist Everard Bone. A relationship which she was not very excited about since it seemed to consist of unwanted obligations such as editing his books and cooking his dinners. Not very romantic! But this time I realized that there were two men in love with her. The vicar Julian Mallory drops many hints and Everard Bone is actively pursuing her. By the end of the book things are definitely looking up for Mildred, a character who early on compares herself to Jane Eyre and describes herself as one of those women caught with a teapot in her hand for every dramatic occasion. Much comedy ensues as she becomes entangled with her glamorous new neighbors, the Napiers. As she says at the beginning of the book:

"I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives by herself and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people's business, and if she is also a clergyman's daughter then one might really say that there is no hope for her."

Barbara Pym is a treasure and if you haven't read anything by her I highly recommend Excellent Women as a place to begin. I have returned to it many times over the years, finding pleasure and comfort in the funny, wise and good-natured voice of its narrator Mildred Lathbury. Her insights into human nature have the wit and style of Jane Austen. It never fails to take me to a cozy place and always make me feel good. This comic masterpiece is sure to make you smile. And laughing out loud in bed is always a good thing!

I would love to know what book you reach for at night when you need to be soothed.

Are you a fan of Excellent Women and have you read any other books by Barbara Pym?

P.S. The first photo of the bedroom, where I could easily imagine myself reading Barbara Pym, is from the Covent Garden Hotel in London, part of the Firmdale Hotel Group. I've been following them on instagram and fallen in love with the beautiful and quirky decor in all their hotels. The rooms are just stunning. I've never seen beds with such gorgeous fabric-covered headboards! The designer is the very talented Kit Kemp who has recently come out with a book, Every Room Tells a Story, filled with images from the various hotels she has designed. Go here to learn more.

And just one more thing -- I have been intrigued by Arianna Huffington's new book The Sleep Revolution and want to pick up a copy. Have any of you read it? I would love to know her thoughts on reading in bed. It always seems to work for me! 


  1. I'm definitely Pymish, just because of moments like that one. :)

  2. That special book for me would be Cider with Rosie, hands down.
    I also love Barbara Pim and her Excellent women.

  3. I have never read "Excellent Women", Sunday - and now, I must. I absolutely love the passage you quote, and I will admit to often opening a cookbook late at night, sometimes abed - or Gladys Taber and Tasha Tudor. :)

  4. love Barbara Pym. I can't decide which of hers is my favorite, but the top contenders are Excellent Women, Jane and Prudence, Some Tame Gazelle, and No Fond Return of Love. I had a hard time getting into her final book, A Quartet in Autumn, but I ought to give it another try. I have also enjoyed A Glass of Blessings, When the Sweet Dove Died, and Less than Angels, but those aren't my favorites.

  5. I'm ordering Excellent Women right now. I've been reading a number of Elizabeth Strout books and enjoying them so much, but not exactly comforting. I usually reach for Jane Austen for that - big surprise! I too am curious about Arianna Huffington's book on sleep - I know she's very much against "screens" before bed and does like real books for reading at night. I've been told by a doctor as well, about the screen problems for your brain before sleep.

  6. I read at night in bed. My batting average is pretty bad of late. More than half the books I buy, I cannot finish. I'm currently reading SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS which I have fairly enjoyed. It shouldn't be so difficult, but it seems the reviewers can't always be trusted. I have found a worker at Barnes and Noble that has been able to pick out some for me that I liked. Am going to have to visit with her again. We don't agree all of the time, but she seems to be better about picking than I am.

  7. "Excellent Women" sounds delightful. I am adding it to my list.

  8. Thank you for the book recommendation. I've just started "Excellent Women" and am enjoying it immensely. Barbara Pym is indeed a treasure.

    I checked out the Covent Garden Hotel too - what delicious rooms! They are definitely decoration inspiration.

  9. I have the first Elena Ferrante book on my night stand now. A page turner, but not so intense (yet) that I can't put it down before sleep. Thank you for the recommendation. Will definitely pick up this book as well. The quote is perfect. A devotional book or cookbook are two perfect soothers for pre-bed. Anything by Ruth Reichl is perfect

    1. I must try again with Barbara Pym. Couldn't get on with the one I read a few years ago but you've inspired me!