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harrigan asked for, my " (non-fanfic and non-comic-or-graphic-novel) literary comfort food"

As far as I'm concerned, comfort books are the ones you reread over and over again, the kind where every year or so you say, "Hey, it's about time to read X again." It doesn't count as a comfort read until the newness has already worn off, until the grooves of the story are comfortably worn in my memory and I have half an idea where on the page individual sentences ought to appear. They're books I can pick up at any moment and fall into.

So here's a list of books that serve that purpose for me. It turned into a recs list more than anything. Harrigan, if there's something particular you wanted to hear about why I picked these, just ask. :)

The Blue Castle, by LM Montgomery. I've read most of Montgomery's oeuvre at this point, and though I've enjoyed most of them (let us not speak of Kilmeny of the Orchard), this is by far my favorite, despite its overindulgence in mostly irrelevant coincidences. It's a novel of self-discovery and Valancy Stirling growing into herself, when her terminal diagnosis finally gives her room to do so. There's something so very satisfying about Valancy breaking free of her awful family and its strictures, of finally saying what she's always wanted and read whatever books she want. Her freedom of self is echoed by her finally being able wander through the woods and admire nature she's only ever been able to read about in books, and to appreciate it, which is also a theme that resonates with me.

Jane of Lantern Hill, by LM Montgomery. I'm not domestic, and yet I adore domestic fantasies of of the sort where a person comes in, cleans up a place and fixes its people with food and clean dishes, and this scratches that itch very well. It's also another coming-into-her-own book, as Jane goes away to live with her father on PE Island and escape her grandmothers' harsh rules.

Tam Lin, by Pamela Dean. Somehow I did not discover this until grad school, but ahhhh, what a delight this is – a novel that is three parts about college and how strange people are at that age and what strange things friendships are and what a strange person one is oneself when it comes down to it, two parts geeking out over literature, and oh yes, one part fantasy, as related to ballad from which the title takes its name. It began perfectly on its first page, and continues perfectly on to the very end. It lets me pretend I am rather more of a lit geek than I am. Plus, I'm very familiar with the real town that the novel's town was modeled on, which adds this delicious familiarity to the whole thing. And every time I read it, I think this time I will finally make sense of what is happening with Peg and the ghost. (I never do.)

Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett. This is now a near-annual tradition. It isn't necessarily the novel I'd recommend as anybody's introduction to Discworld, although if you've seen the miniseries first, then you'll probably get on well enough. I love Christmas unabashedly, and though this novel turns a skeptical eye on many aspects of the holiday, it is a fond eye, too, and feeds many of my Christmas-related cravings. It is a completely barmy holiday soup of all my favorite aspects of the Discworld: Death and Susan and the wizards. Pratchett's mix of humor, heart, and social commentary is very nicely balanced, too, which it isn't always.

Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer. This was my first Heyer, and frankly I might as well have stopped here, because from what I can tell this is Heyer at her peak: a main pairing so adorably well-matched that I shipped before I realized they were endgame, a whole host of interesting and fun supporting characters, wonderful warm humor, and an ending that is deeply satisfying. It's all so warm and cozy. Also, oh hey, a marriage engagement of convenience, how shocking that it should appear on this list.

I suspect Sunshine by Robin McKinley will also appear on this list at some point, but I've only read it twice, so it doesn't seem quite fair to count it yet..

Crossposted from Dreamwidth. Comment here or there. (comment count unavailable DW replies)


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 8th, 2014 04:45 am (UTC)
Ooh, what's Sunshine like? That's the one about vampires and a girl who works in a bakery, yeah?

I think one of the most comforting books for me is A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle. Although I think I've only read all of it once.
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:31 pm (UTC)
Sunshine is difficult to describe. It's a bit post-apocalyptic, or at least post-major war, but in a world that was never our world to begin with. It's chock-full of baked goods. It has vampires that are actually horrible. It's so rich, with a narrator that wanders all over for pages at a time, and you love her for it. It involves a girl getting kidnapped, threatened, offered to a vampire, and generally traumatized, and then the rest of the book is about what happens after; I feel like most books would stop there, but this is about Sunshine's recovery. It is a warm, heartening book, in direct opposition to most urban fantasy, which is ever more cynical.

It's absolutely unique.

Is A Ring of Endless Light part of the fantasy sequence, with A Wrinkle in Time and so on? Or is part of the less-fantasy O'Keefe bunch? I've read most of the former and only a handful of the latter, and am never quite sure how to take them. She approaches things like no one else.
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:38 pm (UTC)
That does sound like a really cool book.

A Ring of Endless Light is about the Austin family, who, unlike the Murray-O'keefes, do not travel in time-space. It's part of a series, and it's also related to The Arm of the Starfish, because her characters are always wandering from one book to the other, but I imagine you could read it solo.

am never quite sure how to take them. She approaches things like no one else.
Interesting! How so?
Jan. 8th, 2014 07:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, well, she writes fantasies but clearly isn't coming out of any particular SFF tradition. She's more interested in exploring things like goodness than in her setting. By the same token, she doesn't function in what I guess I'd call a strictly rational universe; even most fantasies with magic in them function along some kind of delineated magical principles, but in L'Engle's books, sometimes the power of love really does save the day and defeat the bad guy. They kind of function as parables or fables, except the plots and characterization are too complex to be parables.

She had quite some difficulty getting A Wrinkle in Time published IIRC, which of course has a lot to do with the time period, but even today, in a YA climate grounded in Harry Potter and Bella Swann, I think L'Engle would have the same difficulty. There is still no one else doing what she did.

Edited at 2014-01-08 07:04 pm (UTC)
Jan. 8th, 2014 08:18 pm (UTC)
Ahh yes, I see what you mean--it is very different than both traditional genre fiction and modern YA SFF. I think she has a lot in common with C.S. Lewis, though.
Jan. 9th, 2014 02:30 am (UTC)
Mm, maybe? They are definitely concerned with, for lack of a better phrase, spiritual matters, but Lewis seems to care that his universe feel like an actual place with history. He feels fairly securely positioned in the children's fantasy literature of his era. Whereas I'm honestly not always sure whether L'Engle cares whether the events of one book ever happened in the world of the next, even though they're in the same continuity. It almost feels like she's writing a series of standalones that all happen to feature characters with the same names, if that makes any sense.

Um, I am kinda making this up as I talk to you. I've read them both on and off for years, so I am having fun comparing and contrasting them. I hope you don't mind. None of these opinions are firm. :D What similarities were you thinking of between Lewis and L'Engle?

I will say, now that I think about it, that there is one author I've run across who reminded me powerfully of L'Engle: T.A. Barron, although I doubt you've heard of him - he's never really hit it big, I don't think. Some of his mid-90s stuff felt very much like L'Engle's fantasy stuff, though, in ways that nothing else I've read has.
Jan. 9th, 2014 02:56 am (UTC)
I dunno, I think Lewis can be a bit messy--Narnia is kind of a hodgepodge place. But it does seem like he cares about his worldbuilding.

I'm honestly not always sure whether L'Engle cares whether the events of one book ever happened in the world of the next, even though they're in the same continuity
Yeah...a lot of her books are very loosely sequels to others, and there are several that are in related series but were written years apart. So you get weird stuff like Vicky Austin being a teenager growing up in several different decades, despite the absence of time travel.

What similarities were you thinking of between Lewis and L'Engle?
They're both sort of unorthodox in some ways, and they're both really big on religious themes. Also they seem sort of tonally similar in some ways.

I've never heard of T.A. Barron--anything of his you'd recommend?
Jan. 9th, 2014 11:00 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, Narnia is definitely hodgepodge. I think when he dropped Father Christmas into the first one, he had no idea he was going to write six more books. Still, his books all feel of a piece to me in ways that L'Engle's don't.

I've only read two of Barron's books, and it was ages ago. I can't honestly tell you if I liked them, but I found them interesting. They were Merlin Effect and Heartlight.

Jan. 9th, 2014 11:40 pm (UTC)
Cool, thanks!
Jan. 8th, 2014 04:59 am (UTC)
Tam Lin is such a lovely book! I discovered it right after graduating from college, and it was the perfect little bit of nostalgia (even though I went to a large public university and majored in engineering vs attending a small liberal arts college). I've since rec'd it to two people in a similar situation, and they both loved it, too :)

I'm very fond of Sunshine and Hogfather (my favorite Death book), too.
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:32 pm (UTC)
Yep, Tam Lin does have a strong nostalgic bent - even more so, I suppose, given it's set in the 70s, although that's too long ago for nostalgia for me. :)
Jan. 8th, 2014 05:02 am (UTC)
Oh, Jane of Lantern Hill! Surely the most formative book of my childhood. I completely imprinted on whimsical, independent Jane, and suspect that therein lies my love of cooking and of house-hunting. I think there are some books you read when you are young that, while being about young people, also give you important clues about what adulthood means - that book definitely helped me bridge the concepts of being dependent on adults and on managing things for oneself. I haven't read it in years, but oh did I read it to death as a teenager.

Blue Castle was, according to my mother, the Jane of Lantern Hill for adult readers. So I was a little let down by it, expecting so much, but I enjoyed it very much all the same. Valancy strikes such a wonderful balance between kindness and having a sense of absurdity and wit.

(My mother had all of the L M Montgomeries in a special little bookcase all by themselves on her chest of drawers. My mother also attends a monthly Georgette Heyer book club. I feel that you and my mother would enjoy discussing books.)

I have not read Tam Lin, but I really think I should. For me, the book that encapsulates college life is also a fantasy - Diana Wynne Jones's The Year of the Griffin.
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:53 pm (UTC)
I think there are some books you read when you are young that, while being about young people, also give you important clues about what adulthood means

*nod* I'm trying now to think which books I read as a kid did that for me, and have not settled on any. I'll have to think some more.

I find Heyer fairly hit or miss. Cotillion emphasizes all the things I want and avoids the things I don't, but I've been pretty disappointed by some of her others. I don't read her very much anymore.

Diana Wynne Jones is an author whose works I am just discovering as an adult and slowly working through. I've read the Chrestomanci books and The Dark Lord of Derkholm, and have been casting about for where to go next. In between all my other reading, obviously. :D
Jan. 9th, 2014 02:10 am (UTC)
I have only tried two of Heyer's myself: one, Arabella, my mother's suggestion, was a hit, and one, April Lady, which I picked up idly from the library shelf, was a decided miss.

(Ugh, April Lady. 95% building anxiety on money matters and 5% charm.)
Jan. 8th, 2014 02:56 pm (UTC)
This was a wonderful answer! I am always too lazy to go into such detail on my books recs; I really appreciate the time you took to do this.

I have a desk with cubbyholes, and one cubby has a paper tray where I dump books recs. Flyers from the library, handwritten notes from books rec'd in emails by friends or from reviews, computer printouts from webpage reviews, etc. Plus I keep my different library cards numbers and passwords in there (I pay extra for a statewide library card as there are 3-4 different libraries I frequent across more than one county).

I shall add your recs to the list, and maybe even today wade through the stack and prioritize a list of To-Read opportunities and put it on a medium I can have handy for whenever I'm at the library or the used bookstore.

(Of course, comfort books do end up being purchased, new, whenever possible of course!) Thanks again for sharing!
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:55 pm (UTC)
You are most welcome! I love talking about things I like, so. :)

I think a system of keeping recs such as you describe would stress me out; people describe so many books I'd like to read that the only way I can cope is forgetting about most of them! But I am honored to be added to the list. :)
Jan. 8th, 2014 09:43 pm (UTC)
I quite love Tam Lin, though I have to confess I do not recall a bit with a ghost. Clearly it's been too long since I read it!

Robin McKinley in general is on the comfort-food list for me, though Sunshine is not exactly her typical fare, at least not till you get to the ending.

It's the time of year for it so I'm rereading "The Dark Is Rising". None of the other books in that set have quite the same place in my heart, in part because none of the rest of them are about Christmas. :)
Jan. 9th, 2014 02:20 am (UTC)
Yeah, I've read a couple of McKinleys - Beauty, and The Blue Sword, I think? Sunshine was the one that's stuck, though.

There is a ghost! I think she's supposed to have committed suicide after having gotten pregnant by one of the queen's folk, and that this is supposed to have some kind of resonance with Janet's story, but I've never been able to put my finger on it.

I've never managed to read The Dark is Rising. I've tried a couple of times, and never gotten more than 20 pages.
Jan. 9th, 2014 02:11 am (UTC)
Now I know of three beings in the universe who have had the unhappy experience of reading Kilmeny of the Orchard. The memories have mercifully dimmed, but I recall an evol ax-wielding Italian and a very unMontgomerylike complete absence of humor. It was awful.

I love Tam Lin as well, though the Secret Country trilogy is my absolute favorite Dean. My favorite Montgomery is the first couple of Emily books and Rilla of Ingleside, but I liked the Blue Castle a great deal as well. And I don't think I've read Jane of Lantern Hill -- I must hunt that one down.
Jan. 9th, 2014 02:22 am (UTC)
The thing that really annoyed me about Kilmeny was the circumstances of a) her being mute in the first place, and b) her getting cured of it. They were both so ridiculous.

Tam Lin is the only Dean I've ever read! I've always meant to get to more of it, but haven't yet.

Jane of Lantern Hill is just wonderful stuff.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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