Books, Food

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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Books, SFF

My thoughts on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Kate Nepveu: A thing about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell that you wish got more attention.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell got so much attention — surely far more than anyone could have expected for a gigantimous footnote-packed novel written in an authentic-feeling if not precisely authentic Regency voice* — that I struggle to think of any aspect I wish had got more attention!

One thing I do think people often miss is the wildness hidden in the core of the book. I mean, it is all about these starchy ladies and gentlemen going “Oh, I pray you!” and “To own the truth!”, and doing laborious academic magic, and Mr Norrell in particular maddens me because he is so fuddy-duddy, but that is the great thing about it because the book is all about how all of that is a thin skin of pretence disguising a great big wildness that is at the heart of England and English magic (which, in Clarke’s world, are basically the same thing). And the way the book uncovers that is just thrilling, and so well done. *_*

Within the book, I wish we spent more time with the female characters. The first time I read it I felt absolutely starved for more of Arabella Strange and Lady Pole and Flora Greysteel (but especially Arabella, who is my favourite). The Ladies of Grace Adieu remedies the imbalance a little bit, but it’s just not the same, sigh. I also wish we knew more about Stephen Black — I am very fond of him, but you don’t get very much of him before the Spoilery Thing happens and he gets all smooshed and depressed.

I’ve actually just done a big JS&MN reread, having not read it for years, and it is a little embarrassing how much I’ve obviously been influenced by it, from the elements that got into the book I’m working on (even though I’d forgotten most of these things at the time I was actually writing the book). Hopefully my book is not too derivative, but I can definitely see how in a way I was writing it in response to the gaps I perceived — I was making mine a story about the things I wanted more about. The negative space in a story is just as important as the stuff that’s filled in.


*I don’t mean this in a bad way. I think it’s best for modern Regency novels to be written in the author’s interpretation of Regency style, rather than the style an actual contemporary Regency author would have adopted. Patrick O’Brian is a dazzling example of the heights you can reach with that, and Susanna Clarke is another. It always puzzles me when people say how dull or impenetrable her prose is; it seems so clear and sparkling and light to me. Her sentences are also a lot shorter than most actual Regency writers’.

Books, My week in reading

Weekly reading meme

I hadn’t realised this was meant to be a weekly meme. /o\ Anyway, I am anyhow doing it, last time on Friday and this time on Monday (actually Tuesday).

What are you reading now?

The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down – A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman. This is a sad book, or rather it is not itself a sad book, but it is about very sad things. It is not bad on race, but I would still be annoyed at if I were Hmong because it speaks in such broad sweeping generalisations, New York Times editorial style. I also wish she were more anthropological about the people she keeps calling Americans — meaning by this white Americans — but since it is a book intended for a white American audience, not much hope lah.

I am also reading Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian. I got distracted because I am worried that Jack is going to lose all his money down the fake silver mines.

What did you just finish reading?

*koff* The Mauritius Command, also by Patrick O’Brian. I had forgotten what a great character Clonfert is — so tragic, absurd, obnoxious and touching all at once.

What do you expect to read next?

I shall go back to Desolation Island after I have finished The Spirit Catches You etc. I still have to read A Brief History of Britain, 1660-1851 … I hope it hasn’t expired yet, but if it has I guess I could renew it.

Books, My week in reading

Books books books

What are you reading now?

Patrick O’Brian’s HMS Surprise. I started rereading this during my Malaysian wedding, in that vast dull space in the morning between the departure of the make-up artist and the arrival of the bridegroom. I was immured in my bedroom while my friends were occupied in setting him and his heng dai various challenges, and started rereading O’Brian to pass the time. The groom’s party arrived before I got past the first chapter, though. I am now doing a reread of the first book through to the twentieth — we have passed the debauching of the sloth and are now in Bombay, where Maturin has met Dil and is hanging around waiting for Diana.

As with all the best books, I always notice something different on a reread; this time it was the fact that Stephen’s dealings with Dil are a good metaphor or analogy or, really, example of the disastrous consequences that can attend the well-intentioned meddlings of the privileged in the lives of the less privileged. It’s hard to do good, and easy to mess up ….

This is the main thing I am reading: I am indulging in rereading because it is a holiday and also the Aubreyad is the right period for the novel I’m writing, so I can sort of justify it on those grounds. I am also reading Blue God: A life of Krishna by Ramesh Menon, having finished his retelling of the Mahabharata in two volumes, as well as Daughter of Elysium by Joan Slonczewski, which I downloaded when it was being offered for free a while ago. Daughter of Elysium is old-fashioned science fiction of the anthropological, we all live in giant living cells under the sea sort; it is too early for me to have any strong opinions. Blue God has the same satisfying mythic richness as Menon’s retelling of the Mahabharata, though I confess I am skimming the Bhagavad Gita bits.

What did you just finish reading?

800 Years of Women’s Letters, edited by Olga Kenyon, which was very disappointing — Cephas kindly ordered it off a catalogue of academic-y books he received. The letters are fine, but there is very little variety — she extracts letters from the same writers over and over, grouped under different topic headings — and the commentary is shockingly poor. Also, this was first published in the early ’90s, but there have been a couple of reprints since, and she hasn’t really bothered expanding the selection of letters — her sources are all late ’80s. And a good number of the letters are fiction — as in, extracted from fiction, and on at least one occasion she says, “OK, so the following extract isn’t a letter, but it kind of sounds like a letter ….” Really poor.

Post-Captain by Patrick O’Brian. The new thing I noticed was that Stephen is as much at fault for the parlous state of his relationship with Diana as Diana is — she makes it clear from the very beginning that she is looking for marriage, and then he doesn’t offer. I know she blows hot and cold, but it’s pretty obvious that she’s only doing that because she’s furious at him for being just like all the other dudes who just want to sleep with her and won’t commit.

The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. This was very good, but I found it incredibly brutal reading — it was part of the reason why I started an Aubreyad reread. It was making me so depressed and grumpy that I needed a boost — a spiritual palate cleanser. But it is very good! It is all about broken people and horribleness and survival.

What do you expect to read next?

The Mauritius Command! I’ve also borrowed A Brief History of Britain, 1660-1851 by William Gibson, which expires in 21 days, so I’ve got to read it soonish. (My library does ebooks! This is very exciting!)