While away in France, I kept dipping into Mourjou: life and food in a village in the Auvergne, by Peter Graham, an Englishman who has spent most of his life in France. I found this through the Prospect Books website, a wonderful resource for anyone interested in food and its history. The village we have a house in is in the Auvergne, though further north than Mourjou, but much of the food is the same. The dish aligot is a regular at the evening fairs held in August, when all the villagers gather together to buy their supper and eat and chat at long tables set up outside the Mairie. The descriptions of past village life are fascinating and obviously the same for the villages in the region. However life has changed somewhat, as the author reports, and is more like life in the rest of France, as communications have improved a lot in the last century or so.
I picked out an old Katie Fforde book on a recent trip to the library, Living Dangerously. Published in 1995, it seemed to have passed me by, yet I'm a keen fan of Katie Fforde's writing. Her books are an easy read, and fall into the romantic category, but for me are ideal comfort reading in between something a bit more demanding. I usually borrow them rather than buy them however.
The more demanding read I read before this was Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief. It might seem strange to call a book written for young adults more demanding, but the setting of Germany in the Second World War, and the dreadful things that happen to the central character Liesel and to the family who foster her after her mother disappears and her younger brother dies on a train journey is an emotionally demanding read. The Book Club who chose and discussed this felt it was "I'm glad I've read this book" title, and it led onto various memories for one or two of the older members who'd lived through the same war in England, some as children and some as adults. Reading this made me feel much more compassionate towards those ordinary German people who didn't agree with Hitler, but had no means of expressing their disagreement outwardly - it was only expressed by hidden acts of resistance, like fostering the daughter of a communist, and hiding a Jew in their basement. Although I describe this as a more demanding read, the writing is beautifully simple and clear, it is the emotions aroused that are more complex and demanding.