Comfort Books (that I actually finished!)

Look, I am blogging again! Maybe a week since last time instead of two months later! I am proud of my accomplishments.

Blogging here last time seems to have helped me get out of my leaving-books-unfinished-left-and-right slump, so now I am returning to blog about my victory. I managed to finish two books in the past week (and for me that’s a big deal, ok): The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie and Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Hooray for cosy early 20th century books! I haven’t read any in a while, since I’ve been busy experimenting with many other types of books like kids and teen fiction and fantasy and whatever else. (Side note: three good teen fantasy books I read last year are Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, and The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges. The last one is set in 19th century Russia with necromancy and zombie armies and a werewolf and magic and it might not be as popular as the Laini Taylor, but check it out, it’s glamorous and exciting!)

I used to take out piles of Agatha Christie (mostly featuring Poirot) from the library as a teenager, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started reading (and loving) the Miss Marple books in my earlier book blogging days (here’s my appreciation of The Body in the Library at my old book blog). Except after my husband’s stressful surgeries that year (where he got a huge infection and ended up having about four surgeries in total when it should have been only one and we had to move back to my parents’ for a bit because he couldn’t work, etc), I stopped reading mystery novels because the death and violence in them, even in cosy mysteries, had begun to upset me too much. In retrospect, I think it was because I was very scared of my husband dying and I just didn’t want to read anything that made me think about that at all. (And also when we moved out of my parents’ place my mom got rid of all the mysteries I’d left there for safe keeping until I could come back for them. So annoying to lose my small collection of Louise Penny and Agatha Christie books!) But now my husband’s doing better and we are back on our feet again mostly (at least we have our own apartment again!) and so now at last I can enjoy a lovely little cosy mystery again courtesy of Agatha Christie and Miss Marple. The ending of The Mirror Crack’d still managed to be a surprise to me, even though I was sure Christie didn’t have me fooled this time. I was suspicious of the murderer at one point, but didn’t have enough clues to figure out exactly what he/she was up to. I also recently bought the complete short stories of Miss Marple and I’ll either buy or borrow the rest of her books in time. I love Miss Marple so much more than Poirot — I can pretend she’s my cosy and smart little grandma! — but eventually I’m sure I’ll reread the Poirot books as well. Years of reading pleasure await!

Yesterday I was wanting to finish one more book at the end of April and as I was reorganizing my books (something I just have to do from time to time), I picked up my copy of Cold Comfort Farm. I’d read it years before and enjoyed it enough to buy my own copy of it, but I’d never gotten past the first few chapters when I tried to reread it before. But this time I just flipped it open to the middle, meaning only to glance at it in passing, and before I knew it, I was completely sucked into the hilarious story once again. I read it all the way through to the end and then flipped to the beginning and read that all the way to the middle. 🙂 Unconventional, but highly entertaining nevertheless. I also have a great Penguin Deluxe edition of it with funny drawings all over the cover and flaps, so that added to my enjoyment.

I’ve been feeling a bit down lately (that is what happens with depression most of the time) and Cold Comfort Farm helped me to laugh my blues away for a few hours. In some ways, Flora Poste’s meddling in the lives of her pathetic farming relatives in Sussex reminded me of Emma’s meddling in Harriet’s love life (and then there’s the fact that Kate Beckinsale has played both Flora and Emma), but Flora is much more successful at it than Emma and all of her clever plans for improving the lives of those around her succeed brilliantly, perhaps because she relies on ‘the higher common sense’ rather than sheer imagination as Emma does. How she succeeds in gently persuading her bizarre relatives into sensible happiness is where the fun lies. A lot of the humour also comes from Stella Gibbons taking the piss out of writers who glamorize the ‘earthy soul’ of the poor working class by out-purple-prosing them all in hilarious asterisk marked passages. Altogether a very lovely book and I’m sure I’ll be rereading it again someday when I need to be reminded to forget my troubles for a little while and just look on the bright side of life!

Today when I started to feel down again, I constructed a blanket fort under my desk and read some Anne of Green Gables down there for a while. These books are balm for the soul.

Adorable Anne

For the first time in decades, I reread Anne of Green Gables. I just adored it, perhaps more now than I ever did as a girl. I devoured most of L.M. Montgomery’s books largely between the ages of 10 and 13, but I must admit that lately, I’ve looked down on them just the tiniest bit as being not the most literary thing I could have spent my time on. When I read Proust, I noticed that he and Montgomery both write very movingly of nature (which I’m sure helped to develop my life-long love of trees and flowers and all that), but of course I snobbily wished I had been reading Proust in my formative years instead of what I thought of as Montgomery’s overly sentimental stories. Now I see that while Proust is quite well and good and I think I’ve racked up enough snob points in just reading the whole thing, but L.M. Montgomery is home for me. And I do not say that lightly, as those of you who may remember me writing about how I longed for a sense of a literary home know. There just aren’t that many Canadian books that I really love, that capture my experiences of living in and loving my home country movingly and well, so I usually turn to British books instead. Now Prince Edward Island may be on the other side of Canada from Alberta (incidentally, both provinces are named for British royals though — Alberta for Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter Princess Louise Caroline Alberta who later married a Governor General of Canada and P.E.I. for Queen Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, fourth son of King George III), but that doesn’t matter. I spent my childhood reading about it, even though I’ve never been there and it reminds me so much of what I love about my country, the rural beauty, the kindness of the people, and my own growing up years (on a farm too) that this story of an overly imaginative orphan finding a home has jumped straight to the top of my list of favourite books. (You’ll see in the photo, that shelf of books is for my favourite authors!)

One of the many things I enjoyed about Anne is that she sees her imagination as a gift and is always insulting people who have no imagination and reveling in places that have ‘scope for the imagination.’ I also have a vivid imagination (as a child I would often daydream like Anne, the main difference between us being that she is a massive chatterbox and I was horribly shy as a child and am still quite an introvert), but as I grow up and try to navigate the difficulties of practical life, finding a job in a time when marriage and a magical outlook on life isn’t enough to keep a girl in books let alone clothes, I’ve come to undervalue my imagination and to wonder what’s the use of it. I turned to Anne when I was feeling very down and she did cheer me up and help me see the good in who I am. She made me long to daydream again, as I once used to do so innocently. And I smiled so often over how much Anne longs for romantic occasions — not the kind with men, but the kind inspired by poetry — beauty, emotion, something sublime and touching. I too have always secretly looked for moments like that. And I love the importance of friendship in the book, not just with Diana, but the growing relationship Anne has with Marilla, the much older woman who reluctantly adopts Anne. Marilla, with her sarcastic asides and hidden laughter at Anne, offered some much needed ballast to Anne’s airy flights of fantasy, and the slow opening of her heart to Anne was truly touching. I did indeed laugh and cry and feel a whole lot better in the process.

I also grew up watching the Anne miniseries (my dream wedding was one like Diana’s for years) and have begun watching it again with my mom. She’s become a more recent Anne devotee and even took a trip to P.E.I. a few years ago (bringing back the mug in the photo), so it’s fun to share that. I also bought a biography of L.M. Montgomery (Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings by Mary Henley Rubio), since I love the portrayal of late Victorian Canada in the books and miniseries. The clothes, the teas and picnics, the simpler kinder life… I know it’s nostalgia (and that real life wasn’t always as good, not even for Montgomery herself) but who cares when it’s this adorable. Hopefully I’ll get to P.E.I. one of these days! If anyone has recommendations for more books to read set at some cosy point of late 19th century Canadian history beyond Montgomery, I’d be thrilled.

Since odds are slim on that, I thought I might explore some late 19th century American authors and history too and settled on Edith Wharton’s biography by Hermoine Lee, of all things. Wharton’s claustrophobic and deadly correct high society New York is not nearly as simple and idyllic as Anne’s world, but does have its own glamorous allure and the book is very easy to get sucked into, despite how absolutely massive it is. I generally don’t like biographies that much since they start with all the boring bits of birth and parents, but Hermoine Lee does a great job with the beginning. I don’t know if I’ll finish it, since I’ve also just done one of my periodic reorganizing of my books and even packed a few (ok three boxes) up for temporary storage since I just have too many for such a tiny place and have now found about four other books I’m now interested in reading! And I’ve got a number of books on hold at my big city library too… (more lesser known Montgomery novels of course! My dad just downloaded The Blue Castle onto his brand-new Kindle for my mom and I, which used to be my favourite of her books, so we’ll see how Anne fares then. Of course, having a Kindle in the house is definitely inspiring a desire for one of my own, lost in daydreams of how easy it would be to read more George Eliot when I didn’t have to carry any heavy books around! My sister just read Middlemarch at long last on her e-reader, so…)

And at last, some descriptions of spring:

Spring had come once more to Green Gables — the beautiful, capricious, reluctant Canadian spring, lingering along through April and May in a succession of sweet, fresh, chilly days, with pink sunsets and miracles of resurrection and growth. The maples in Lover’s Lane were red-budded and little curly ferns pushed up around the Dryad’s Bubble. Away up in the barrens, behind Mr. Silas Sloane’s place, the Mayflowers blossomed out, pink and white stars of sweetness under their brown leaves. All the school girls and boys had one golden afternoon gathering them, coming home in the clear, echoing twilight with arms and baskets full of flowery spoil.

Spring certainly is slow here, with plenty of snow still hiding in the shadow of buildings, slowly slowly melting away. I did see the first grey soft pussy willows though, going for a walk down our country roads a few days ago and heard ducks and frogs in a nearby pond. And yesterday we had an Easter family get-together at my grandma’s, here are the three ladies in purple! (My adorable niece up to all kinds of mischief, as usual. No one in my family expected my youngest slacker brother to be the first to have a baby, but we’re all completely thrilled with her.)

A huge cherry-tree grew outside, so close that its boughs tapped against the house, and it was so thick-set with blossoms tat hardly a leaf was to be seen. On both sides of the house was a big orchard, one of apple trees and one of cherry trees, also showered over with blossoms; and their grass was all sprinkled with dandelions. In the garden below were lilac trees purple with flowers, and their dizzily sweet fragrance drifted up to the window in the morning wind.

It’s a sweet and simple enchantment that not even Proust can match.