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Favourite comfort reads and a new favourite recipe

Anonymous asked about favorite comfort reads, or favorite recipes.

Favourite comfort reads (a non-comprehensive list)

I’m going to specify titles ‘cos it’s interesting to think about which specific books by these authors I like best for comfort reading, but in most cases the authors’ entire oeuvres fall under the heading of “comfort reading” for me.

  • L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. LMM is probably my #1 comfort read of all time actually. OF ALL TIME!
  • Patrick O’Brian, HMS Surprise
  • Georgette Heyer, Cotillion
  • Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
  • Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes
  • Jean Webster, Dear Enemy
  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  • P. G. Wodehouse, Psmith books (cheating and naming all of them because I can’t remember which instalment is my favourite)

Oddly enough I don’t feel Terry Pratchett really belongs on the list, though I rate him higher than several of these authors in certain respects. I feel like Discworld really shaped my worldview, and showed me that it was possible for books to be genre and silly and fun but also serious and clever – but for whatever reason I don’t seem to have that deep emotional attachment to the books anymore. I still like and value them, but it’s like I’ve taken from them what I need, and don’t need them anymore.

Well, I say that, but if I were to embark upon a reread doubtless the feelings would return!

Incidentally nearly all the books/authors I name above I came to at around age 10-12, which is probably why they have stuck with me. The only two exceptions are O’Brian and Heyer, whom I discovered at around 16-18.

A favourite recipe

DIY chilli “pan mee”

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On Jane Austen

nanila asked me to talk about Jane Austen.

My favourite Austen novel is, boringly, Pride and Prejudice, because it is just right for what it is. It’s funny; it’s sharp; it has a clear moral arc for the main characters but also for everyone else; it is exciting even though all of Lydia’s stuff happens off the page; and you really want Elizabeth and Darcy to get together, and they totally do. So my favourite Austen heroine really has to be Elizabeth, because she is so irresistible.

But I have a soft spot for Mansfield Park‘s Fanny Price. Yes, she is tiresome and kind of wet, but she’s not really wet! She’s stubborn as heck when it comes to doing what she thinks to be the right thing. I secretly kind of wish she and Henry Crawford had worked out, because there is an enduring appeal in the idea of the charming bad boy who turns over a new leaf for a good woman’s love — but because of that enduring appeal I am glad she ends up with Edmund, with whom she shares values and tastes, and who will be good to her. (Even if they are cousins.) Though I find it funny that clearly Austen found Edmund so uninteresting as well that she didn’t bother writing out their romance in any detail.

My favourite line from Austen’s letters is the terrible one:

Mrs Hall of Sherborne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, oweing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.

Jesus Christ, Jane. Did you kiss your mother with that mouth? (Though imagine what her novels would have been like if she’d been like that in them!)

Emma Thompson is my Sense and Sensibility‘s Elinor, even though she has the wrong hair colour and is too old. But the BBC Persuasion shot entirely in natural light is probably the best Austen movie, even though Captain Wentworth is totally not as I envisioned him, at least in appearance.

The Austen novels I reread the least are Emma and Northanger Abbey. This isn’t because they aren’t good! I know Emma is regarded by many discerning judges as the best, and Northanger Abbey is hilarious. But Catherine and Emma both trip my embarrassment squick beyond bearing. /o\

The two things I wish people would not do when they are talking about Jane Austen are:

  1. Dismiss her stuff as “chick lit”, or idfic, or somehow unimportant because it is just too female.
  2. Forget her books are meant to be funny. (I am looking at you, 2005 Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley. And no, unintentionally funny does not count!)

Weekly reading meme: w/c 1 April 2013

I must start to have some system for titling these posts — they can’t all be “Weekly reading meme! :D” or “Books books books”.

What are you reading now?

Jane Austen’s letters (the set edited by Deirdre Le Faye – she ought to write romance novels with such a name). I was meant to finish these a couple of posts ago, but … I didn’t …. To be fair, the book and I were in different countries for about ten days since I last mentioned it! It’s a wee bit of a slog despite Jane’s delightful style, because it is, of course, all about people you don’t know and incidents you haven’t been told about. (And the juiciest letters have been destroyed! Cassandra >:( ) There are footnotes, but sometimes you flip to the back of the book and it obligingly tells you about how the reference to Capt H and Mrs S is about a scandalous elopement gossiped about in the papers, but sometimes you flip back and it’s just like “Mrs D D probably stands for Mrs Dean Dundas”. Yeah. Thanks, footnotes.

I am also rereading Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. My ostensible reason is that it’s prep for my space minuet, but my real reason is that I love it. Lucy Snowe is so creepy and judgmental! (She has good reasons for the former, but not really for the latter.) I can’t work out what her feelings for Dr John are. I dislike Dr John but am impressed by how Bronte pulls out a romantic dark horse from apparently nowhere. But he’s been lurking in the background all along.

The problem of M Paul is that one struggles to envision a retelling of him that doesn’t have creepy racist overtones. Because his portrayal is so racialised!

I had forgotten how everyone in the novel is connected to everyone in some way. It’s like there’s only three families in total in England and fake-Belgium combined. I mean, I know in expat communities you do tend to know everyone, and that guy you see at karaoke sessions always does turn out to be dating your colleague’s roommate, but still, Villette takes it a bit far.

What did you just finish reading?

The Third Miss Symons by F. M. Mayor, because I read this list in the Guardian of best books set in East Anglia and the description of Mayor’s book The Rector’s Daughter (“heartbreaking and acute 1924 tale of Mary Jocelyn, high-minded daughter of the rector of Dedmayne”) made me think it would be right up my alley, but I couldn’t find that novel on Gutenberg. But I was right, because The Third Miss Symons totally is right up my alley. It’s about the problem of being unhappy and not really having anything in your life that makes it worth living – the problem of not being significant to yourself. (Spoiler: it’s kind of depressing.) It made me think of this recent letter to Captain Awkward, Help me stop being mean, where the letter-writer talks about being mean because of their jerkbrain.

The opposite of The Third Miss Symons is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. There is no such escape for Miss Symons as is granted to Miss Pettigrew. I’m glad Miss S gets a kind of happy ending, and it works in the context of the book and the characters’ and author’s likely beliefs. But because it’s not really a happy ending unless you are Christian and/or believe in that sort of thing, I don’t feel it is copping out, and respect Mayor for taking the story to its logical conclusion and not giving Miss S some unexpected windfall of love and happiness.

Oh, and I finished Tales of Ogonshoto (the English translation of Naratif Ogonshoto) by Anwar Ridhwan before I left Malaysia. It was OK, not bad — some it very clever. I think the translation would have benefited from some copyediting — the translation was on the whole serviceable, and I think gave a flavour of what the original text must be like, but there was a lot of tense confusion which unfortunately detracted from the polish of the prose.

What do you expect to read next?

Hmm, dunno wor! Oh, I guess I will read Harriette Wilson’s Memoirs, which I’ve had out from the library for a good while. I’ve already read a bit of the beginning, and it is both funny and really sad. (Harriette Wilson was a well-known Regency courtesan – and she was kind of sold to her first dude at age 15.)

It is no good that my reading is so white at the moment, but it is a side-effect of the fact that I am trying to read things that will be helpful for my current and future writing projects. Though ooh ooh ooh – I got Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds for £1.19 on the Kindle (alas, the sale is now over). So I will get to reward myself with that at some point! \o/

Weekly reading meme

Nowadays whenever I am in Malaysia I make a beeline to the local bookshops to stock up — MPH, Popular and Times are not bad for local books, though annoyingly the MPH nearest to me is in the thick of renovations right now, which means that their Malaysian Interest sections are all huru hara. (Incidentally the bookshops here put things like KL Noir: Red in the Malaysian Authors or Malaysian Interest section — you’d think they’d know better. I mean, of course it makes sense to have copies in the Malaysian Authors section, but they should also be under Crime or wherever it is the other English-language noir books go, IMO. If we insist on ghettoising ourselves how can we expect other people to avoid doing the same?)

Anyway — reading meme!

What are you reading now?

Josephine Ross’s Jane Austen: A Companion, which is what it says on the tin. Her primary source is Jane Austen’s letters, which I have just been reading, and it is very interesting to be reading along and tripping over lines I remember from the letters. I feel pretty full up on Regency research now — I have one more book on the Regency from the library (Our Tempestuous Day), but I think after I’ve finished this and JA’s letters I’m going to call it a day and move on to other things. I need to bulk up my Asian historical knowledge — sadly, but unsurprisingly, it has been harder to get ahold of Asian history titles than books telling you what a kerseymere spencer is, and what the dancers would have eaten at a Regency ball. And once I start revising Prunella I will want to be reading more primary sources, to get into the right mind-set.

What did you just finish reading?

Sybil Kathigasu’s No Dram of Mercy, her account of her experiences during the Japanese WW2 occupation of Malaya. It was INTENSE. I’m trying to be a bit strategic about getting through my haul because my bag is already gonna be very heavy, so my initial plan was to read a few of the books so I wouldn’t have to take them back to England. Once I was a few pages in I realised this was a book I needed to take with me, but I couldn’t put it down because it was so interesting. So much for my strategy!

Sybil Kathigasu was a midwife married to a doctor in Ipoh who secretly treated the anti-Japanese Communist guerrillas and was imprisoned, tortured and interrogated by the Japanese for this. She survived the occupation but died a couple of years later from complications due to the injuries she suffered. She was well-educated, English-speaking, passionately Catholic, and a loyal British subject. Her account is incredibly gripping — and it was funny reading it, having recently read Linda Colley’s book on British captives in the Empire, because Colley has a section about how the captivity narrative became a thing, and British men and women captured in Afghanistan in the 19th century started scribbling away in prison with one eye on publication. And Kathigasu is totally thinking about writing a book about her experiences perhaps the whole time she is in prison, and talks about how it sucks that there was no pen and paper.

She must have been a real character — for one thing she was obviously very brave to have treated the guerrillas and hoarded a series of radios (forbidden by the Japanese) so she could listen to the BBC. But she was also obviously super bossy! You can hardly tell what any of the other people who feature in her book are like, because her personality dominates it so strongly. I can just imagine what she was like — a genial, tough, intelligent, scary auntie, fully aware of her innate superiority. She was great at being a war heroine but might have been difficult to live with in peacetime. (Amusingly Richard Winstedt’s preface to the narrative notes that she was “proud and dominant”, though he hastily adds that she was also humble, loving and devout.)

One interesting dystopian feature of the Japanese occupation, mentioned in passing — Eurasians were made to wear numbered armbands, as the Japanese wanted to be able to distinguish them from Westerners (Eurasians being allowed to mingle with the locals and go about their lives, but not the Europeans, Australians, Canadians, etc.).

What do you expect to read next?

I’m on Tales of Ogonshoto, an English translation of Anwar Ridhwan’s Naratif Ogonshoto. This is a series of short stories about the fictional Pacific state of Ogonshoto, so far largely preoccupied with corrupt politicians. Literary rather than popular fiction. Let us hope I shall have finished it before I fly off on Saturday!

What I read this week

What are you reading now?

Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting in the East, 1750-1850. Another applegnat rec! It’s all right. I mean, it’s interesting and well-written, and should be super useful (weird to be reading it right after Linda Colley’s Captives and being like, oh hey, I know all this stuff about Seringapatam/Srirangapatna already). But Jasanoff wants to talk about cultural intermixings and the lesser-known aspects of Empire and whatnot; she does not want to focus on what jerks all these European collectors are. Whereas the fact that they are huge jerks keeps irresistibly intruding itself upon my attention!

What did you just finish reading?

A Short History of Malaysia by Virginia Matheson Hooker. There’s a bit in the beginning where she discusses how Malaysians are taught their history and how the history is constructed and why, which is quite interesting for somebody who went through that education. Our Sejarah textbooks suck in a lot of ways but one of the ways I am quite indignant about is that they almost completely fail to convey the romance of the history of maritime Southeast Asia. It’s been a site of cultural convergence and intermixing since pretty much forever, and historical maritime SEAsia has everything. (To plagiarise myself, enthusing in an email to colorblue — ) Pirates! Pilgrims! Princesses! Court intrigue! People who live on boats and are ~expert navigators~, and people who live uncompromisingly independent lives in the forest and the highlands, and people who live in palaces trying to figure out how to backstab their brothers.

I also finished Jonathan Spence’s The Death of Woman Wang, which I was really pretty unimpressed by. It’s supposedly a reconstruction of what life was like in 17th century/Ming/Qing dynasty rural China, but it’s just kind of a bunch of anecdotes by some Chinese people translated and strung together loosely. I don’t even know what Pu Songling is doing in there given he doesn’t even live in Tancheng (the area Spence is focusing on). I mean — they are interesting, illuminating anecdotes! I was just expecting something a bit more cohesive, and with more of an overall narrative.

What do you expect to read next?

After Edge of Empire I will finish the book of Jane Austen’s letters I got out of the library. And then some of my other library books, I guess? It depends on whether I decide to take them back to Malaysia with me, or whether I decide to just renew them and read them when I get back.