May 21, 2012

Whimsy

Last night I finished Jean Webster's novel Daddy-Long-Legs.  Not for the first time, of course: I've read it perhaps half a dozen times over as many years, and yet it never fails to leave me happy at the end.  Like Jane Austen, Daddy-Long-Legs is a comfort read.  Whenever I am blue, and whatever I'm supposed to be reading isn't cutting it, it is usually a choice between Pride & Prejudice, Emma, or Daddy-Long-Legs.  (Not Mansfield Park: I love that book, but I'm sure it gets my blood pressure up.)  This time it was The Shield Ring that, in true Sutcliff style, was just too emotionally investing, and Daddy-Long-Legs came off the shelf.

The book is not difficult, or mind-stretching, but it is the sort of book that makes life seem brighter by portraying it with zest.  It picks up all the little details and spins them into a gossamer story - appropriately gloomy in some places, for it wouldn't be as cheery in the other parts if there were not at least some grey bits.  Everything is touched with whimsy, much more, perhaps, than real life has from day to day; but maybe that in itself is what makes the book so darling.  It characterizes the momentary, simple (and sometimes profound) pleasures we encounter that feel too good to be true.  They don't usually last long in all their vibrant glory and I don't think it possible to have them constantly (I wouldn't want to confuse these things with joy proper, which ought to be a steady characteristic of our lives); there are many times of struggle, of grief, of worry and stress and hardship where such brilliantly happy moments are rare or nonexistent.  But, like candy or a vacation, they are very pleasant during those once-in-a-whiles when they come.

daddy-long-legs

"P.S. It's raining cats and dogs tonight.  Two puppies and a kitten have just landed on the window-sill."

"College opens in two weeks and I shall be glad to begin work again.  I have worked quite a lot this summer though - six short stories and seven poems.  Those I sent to the magazines all came back with the most courteous promptitude.  But I don't mind.  It's good practice.  Master Jervie read them - he brought in the mail, so I couldn't help his knowing - and he said they were dreadful.  They showed that I didn't have the slightest idea of what I was talking about.  (Master Jervie doesn't let politeness interfere with truth.)"

"The accompanying illustration is hereby reproduced for the first time.  It looks like a spider on the end of a string, but it isn't at all; it's a picture of me learning to swim in the tank in the gymnasium.  The instructor hooks a rope into a ring in the back of my belt, and runs it through a pulley in the ceiling.  It would be a beautiful system if one had perfect confidence in the probity of one's instructor.  I'm always afraid, though, that she will let the rope get slack, so I keep one anxious eye on her and swim with the other, and with this divided interest I do not make the progress that I otherwise might."

"We're reading Marie Bashkirtseff's journal.  Isn't it amazing?  Listen to this: 'Last night I was seized by a fit of despair that found utterance in moans, and that finally drove me to throw the dining-room clock into the sea.'  It makes me almost hope I'm not a genius; they must be very wearing to have about - and awfully destructive to the furniture."

So you see, I always feel happier after I've read a few of Judy Abbott's letters to Daddy-Long-Legs-Smith than I was when first I picked up the book; maybe that has something to do with the cloth binding.  Somehow cloth binding makes the story even better.  And now, with that comfort book finished, I've begun A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery.  It's amusing to see his typical Winnie-the-Pooh style carry over into a whodunit.

what are some of your comfort reads?

10 comments:

  1. Aw, I love Daddy Long Legs! I read it years ago for book club and totally relate to the cozy feeling. My comfort reads are LM Montgomery and Frances Hodgson Burnett...I've been reading those lovely ladies' novels for a decade and don't intend to stop any time soon!

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  2. I asked my sister to name some of my comfort-reading titles. She just rolled her eyes and muttered, "Yeah, you always go back to C. S. Lewis." I guess that answered that!

    In the past, I spent a lot of time in Arabian Nights, Swiss Family Robinson, and Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. In more recent years it has been The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin--somehow the quirky humor never grows old--and the trilogy by E. Nesbit (Five Children and It, The Amulet, and The Phoenix and the Carpet). If I owned them, I'd also go for Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Series, which mean as much to me as an adult as they meant to me as a child.

    I've never read Daddy Long Legs, but now I shall have to put it on my "to read" list!

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  3. I love Daddy-long-legs too! I actually came to it very late in the game...I was fully 18 before I read it. :D I have always loved books made up of winsome letters...did this have anything to do with your plans for Sunshine & Gossamer? ;)
    My comfort reads are Anne of Green Gables, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, and An Old-Fashioned girl (the latter three by L.M. Alcott) as well as The Hobbit and Winnie-the-Pooh. :) I shall have to look up the book you're reading--I've only read his Pooh books and poetry.

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  4. There's irony for you. As I sit and read this post, I am currently in the middle of watching the Fred Astaire&Leslie Caron movie version of Daddy-Long-Legs. :-D

    I have to admit my comfort reads are A Little Princess, Ella Enchanted, Narnia, the Christy Miller series (and subsequent), fairy tales, Ballet Shoes, The Mysterious Benedict Society series, and The Faerie Path (book #1).
    Kids' books? Maybe, but most of those are books I fell in love with in my younger years, and that's part of what adds the comfort to them.

    Looking at that...I can't help but wonder why I've never found any other classics, even children's classics, to fit into my comfort reads...Even as much as I love many of them...hmm...

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  5. My complete Sherlock Holmes set. That's my comfort read. When I open that tattered, brown book that's at least 3 inches thick, I feel like I've come home after a tiresome journey. I feel like I am sitting by Holmsie's side, listening to him solve cases whilst I pour the Tea. Yes, I guess S.H is my comfort read.

    I LOVE daddy-Long-Legs!!! Simply adore it! I cried in the end. Haha.

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  6. Mia - I've only read Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" series, which is awfully typical. They do make good comfort books, though! Of Burnett's works, I'm particularly fond of The Secret Garden. That's a cute book.

    Yaasha - I just bought The Phoenix and the Carpet yesterday! I think I'm going to give it to my sister-in-law, though, as she already owns Five Children and It. Have you read The Railway Children? I am better acquainted with the movie, but both are excellent.

    Alas, I haven't read most of the books you mentioned! Swiss Family Robinson was a childhood favorite, though. I really need to read The Arabian Nights; it's one of those classics that is referenced so many times in other literature, you can't get by without reading it.

    Rachel - Yes, Daddy-Long-Legs did have a significant part to play in the idea behind Sunshine and Gossamer! I love reading story-letters like that, and I've found I love writing them as well. They're so much fun.

    I am very much enjoying Milne's Red House Mystery. He keeps his conversational style and dry humor, and you can see sparks of Winnie-the-Pooh here and there - but I think it will stand on its merit as a mystery, too.

    Rhoswen - Coincidence! That is amusing.

    Yes, books from childhood get a special place in my heart as well. The Gammage Cup and The Phantom Tollbooth are two such stories. I tend to associate books with specific periods of life, so if the period was a good one, the book is more likely to be a favorite.

    Ashley - Sherlock Holmes makes for great light reading! Much better than Agatha Christie; Conan Doyle wasn't so dark.

    I always get choked up at the end of Daddy-Long-Legs, not because it's sad, but because it's so happy. It is indeed a classic.

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  7. Hmm...

    I think my comfort reads would be The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Paddington books by Michael Bond, and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I find it interesting how one's comfort reads are often books they have known and loved since childhood. That is how it is with all the books I mentioned, except Cranford which my older sister discovered several years ago when I was around fourteen.

    I really want to read Daddy-Long-Legs now! It sounds like a very charming book.

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  8. All splendid books, Annie! (Except that, having not read Cranford, I can't comment on it.) Paddington is underappreciated, in my opinion. I read them as a child and then a year or two ago my dad read several of them aloud to my niece, so we got to hear about them again. Paddington inspired me to try marmalade and make treacle - which isn't as good as it sounds, unfortunately.

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  9. I just read the first Paddington book aloud to several children I was babysitting. They loved it! Every time I finished a chapter they would clamor for another one. We finished it in three days. :)

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  10. My favourite comfort books that I read when I feel sad, tired or ill are:
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    Emma by Jane Austen
    Persuasion by Jane Austen
    Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
    The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S Lewis
    Brambley Hedge by Jill Barklem
    The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
    The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame
    Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling


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I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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