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My new secret boyfriend

Like Leila, I’m in something of a reading slump, or in my case listening, as none of the several audiobooks I read on my commute seem to be doing it for me. The new Anna Pigeon mystery reminds me of why I gave up on Nevada Barr years ago (lurid and incoherent); Elizabeth and Mary is repetitive and overfond of the first queen at the expense of the second; the new Dennis Lehane is too hairy-chested; and those New Yorkers pile up as readily on my iPod as they do on the bathroom scales.

Let’s just say I’ve been in a mood. But what hand of Providence brought me to download At Home in Mitford, the first of Jan Karon’s novels about the mild-mannered Episcopalian Father Tim and his flock in a cozy Blue Ridge Mountains hamlet? Oh my goodness (as F.T. might say) I am loving it. And the hero has already made me a better person. Last night I came home to see Richard folding the t-shirts I had left in the dryer last weekend. To cover my own embarrassment at falling down on the job, my left-handed Scorpio instinct was to say something caustic about it being high time someone got around to the laundry but I thought, what would Father Tim do?, and instead said “I’m sorry I left the t-shirts in the dryer.”

The pleasure of the book is its comfortable, steady-paced, dullness–right now, Father Tim is trying to settle on the menu for a dinner party he wants to have for his friends. He’s just gone jogging for the first time. His irrepressible (by Mitford standards) dog Barnabas will only sit when Father Tim orates Scripture. The village vet and his wife, in their middle age, are expecting a baby. I am completely engrossed. Martha says if I like this sort of thing I should try Miss Read’s books, too.

I’ve been editing a lot of Guide and Magazine book reviews this week, and the contrast to my new reading crush could not be greater. Once you get above chapter book level, it seems like almost all new fiction for kids is (or wants to be) thrilling, exciting, harum-scarum, suspenseful, non-stop, etc. Don’t kids ever read to relax?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >I was in the same slump. I found a a Stillmeadow book by Gladys Taber while cleaning out my mother’s home. It really helped me get through that sad task.

  2. kristin says:

    >You didn’t ask for recommendations, but I’m compelled to give one. I’m listening to the audiobook of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, which is wonderfully read by Christopher Timothy, who played Herriot on the old BBC TV show. It’s comfortable and non-thrilling, not to mention hysterically funny, when it isn’t making me cry. Wonderful stuff!

    I have Obama’s Dreams from my Father lined up for after that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >As to your comment about fiction that wants to be thrilling, suspenseful, non-stop… editors routinely praise the writing, characters and choice of topics in manuscripts, then reject them as “too quiet.” Perhaps it’s time to question the assumption that books have to be loud to get attention.

  4. Anonymous says:

    >What Anon 1:20 said, three hundred times over.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >If “quiet” means there isn’t a plot, then I’m with the publisher. Plot is kind of a big thing I see missing from the criteria “writing, characters, and choice of topics.” But I agree that children’s books in general have become louder than they need to be. Marilyn Horne said the best piece of advice she got from her father was “when you really want someone’s attention, whisper.”

  6. Warnell says:

    >I am so glad you are liking Father Tim! Some people don’t like the slow place and lack of climate, but I adored all of those books!

  7. >I luurrrrrrrrve the Mitford books for exactly those reasons. (Plus, I’m Episcopalian.) Just don’t read her picture books.

  8. Jennifer Schultz says:

    >I’d also recommend (in addition to James Herriot) novels by Angela Thirkell. I found out about her years ago thanks to the A Common Reader catalog. I miss that catalog.

  9. Jennifer Schultz says:

    >And reading slumps….hate those. Went through one recently and read through all the Lurlene McDaniel books I could stand. They were quite helpful.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >Have you read Barbara Pym? I love her novels for the same sort of comfortableness–but in a British way. Jumble sales, vicars, spinsters, and other excellent women who prepare indexes and collect jumble for distressed gentlewomen.

  11. Sandy D. says:

    >Yes – “The Common Reader” catalog used to have a whole category of cozy comfort reads. I miss them, too. That’s whwere I discovered Gervase Phinn. 🙂

    And Michael Perry’s books aren’t so quaint (and are non-fiction), but they give me the same sense of community and wonder.

  12. Rachael says:

    >Oh yes. Father Tim was very comforting during a stressful year of my life. In the television category, Ballykissangel does the same thing for me.

  13. Todd McDonald says:

    >What about the Graveyard Book? It seems to have everything folks are looking for. It has an engrossing plot (stealthy murder, suspense, search for identity). It’s not loud since the characters are pretty subdued (I guess it helps most of them are ghosts). And the pacing is patient not revealing major secrets until the end, and even then secrets aren’t just exploded on the reader. I recall after finishing it a mixed feeling of exhilaration and relaxation. The characters took me on an enthralling ride but Gaiman’s tone and style kept me interested and calm.

  14. Monica Edinger says:

    >Quiet? Precious Ramotswe (AKA owner of the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) does it for me.

  15. Anonymous says:

    >how many Anglophilesbefore me have commented on the latent snobbery in the author’s choice of MITFORD

  16. Elaine Marie Alphin says:

    >I do find characters like Father Tim and Precious Ramotswe comfortable to return to, like old friends. I used to feel the same way about caterer Goldy Schulz in Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary mysteries, but I’m having trouble getting into her latest.

    I wonder if YA readers don’t really want to relax into the calm and comfort of a quiet book, unlike those of us who confront real world stress and tension all too often? They may prefer to dive into a thrilling, suspenseful harum-scarum world when they read. Or perhaps YA editors want more thrills in their lives?

    Plotless quiet would probably put us all to sleep, but I agree that a suspenseful whisper can be far more chilling than a rant.

  17. Anonymous says:

    >Lynne Rae Perkins does it for me. I wonder what you thought of Criss Cross. I remember reading All Alone in the Universe–a book with an Utterly Predictable story arc, and a rather dull little protagonist in a conventional world– and it was just astonishing how perfect it was. Not harum-scarum, not thrilling, not suspenseful. Perfect.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >Donald Westlake’s stories of Dortmunder and friends. Maybe too raucus for this genteel group, but the same rewarding consistency

  19. >Good point on the low-key reading pleasure. Such books do stay in the mind. But it’s kind awkward to explain to a teenager that the pleasure of book X is that very little actually happens. What next, the collected films of Eric Rohmer?

  20. Anonymous says:

    >yes to Barbara Pym, yes to Miss Read, but why not go right back to the source? ANTHONY TROLLOPE !

  21. Roger Sutton says:

    >I dunno about The Graveyard Book as relaxing. The second time, through, sure, but there is all too much suspense and peril for a gentle first encounter. In one of my own childhood favorites, Gretchen Finletter’s From the Top of the Stairs, a 1947 memoir of her childhood as a daughter of opera impresario Walter Damrosch, Finletter wrote of her own reading:

    “It is difficult to analyze why a certain series becomes so popular with a child, but the ingredients that make for this success seem to be a large family, so that one can identify with a character one’s own age, a day-to-day account of the characters, and great dullness. There is a fascination about dullness. It immediately eliminates competition.”

  22. >For everyone who likes Barbara Pym, have you read any of her litrary executor Hazel Holt’s mysteries? Very relaxing and comforting.

  23. KATE COOMBS says:

    >I’m glad I’m not the only one to lose interest in Nevada Barr. I actually discovered her books while staying in Sequoia National Park one summer–they were the only adult fiction titles the official gift shop carried! I read the first several quite happily, but the last two I read were beyond bleak into gut-churning, soul-crunching territory, in my opinion, so I avoided the newest. I do like the Number One Ladies Detective Agency, and I finally discovered Carl Hiaasen last year. But there’s this feeling of anomie I’ve been getting lately: I look upon my stacks of new, unread books and find that they just don’t seem to intrigue me like they should. (I also concur that the new Star Trek movie is a kick, yet here we are, awash in YA dystopia.)

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