How are you coping these days, my friends? With self-isolation, social distancing, sheltering in place…. or even, maybe, quarantine? We’re doing okay. I’m feeling a bit more lonely than Hubby who doesn’t like cities anyway, and who would be quite happy living in the back woods. But we’re good, really. Luckily we find each other endlessly entertaining. And when Hubby’s company is not enough for me, I call my family. Or seek the solace of fictional characters I love, and the company of gentle books, which always help me through challenging days.
I know that we’re all on a slightly different timeline with this pandemic, depending on where we live. Hubby and I are two weeks into our own social distancing marathon. Two weeks of only seeing each other, except for his occasional trips to the grocery store, or waving a greeting to other walkers. We’re trying to keep a normal schedule. Not that we were on much of a schedule to begin with. But the days seem slower, and begin to run into each other.
And I’ve been thinking of a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird: “People moved slowly then… took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.” Or in our case outside the boundaries of our own backyard.
To Kill a Mockingbird is set during the Great Depression, but somehow it seems applicable to us, the slowing down, narrowing our boundaries to focus on home and family. One of Harper Lee’s themes is social isolation, which we know can be much more dangerous emotionally, than social distancing. I think that after this whole pandemic thing is over, it would be interesting to teach this book to a grade nine class again. And see whether the students’ own plight has made them more empathetic towards Boo Radley. If you’ve never read this classic, maybe now’s the time to rectify that.
I’m careful with my reading these days. More careful than usual. Pampering myself instead of challenging myself. I guess I’m “comfort reading.” And when Sandra Sallin mentioned recently in a comment on my cooking post that it might be good to do another post on gentle reading, I thought I’d take up her suggestion.
Some of my favourite gentle reads, I’ve written about before on the blog. The books of Dorothy Whipple for instance, in particular The Priory and Someone at a Distance. Or those of Ursula Orange, my favourites being Company in the Evening and Tom Tiddler’s Ground. You can read my post about both of these writers here. I love these gentle books set between the wars, or in the case of Ursula Orange at the start of World War II. I love the wonderful writing, the lean yet detailed description, the charm without sentimentality.
Another of my favourite comfort reads is Jane Gardam’s Faith Fox. I love all of Jane Gardam’s books, but Faith Fox is my favourite. I gave it to my mum a few years ago, and she still talks about that book. Faith Fox is abandoned by her mother who dies in childbirth, by her grieving father who is incapable of looking after her on his own, and by her equally grieving maternal grandmother who cannot face her beloved daughter’s child and runs off with her new man. So Faith is raised by an odd assortment of quirky relatives and friends. This book is moving and funny and lovely. Jane Gardam is witty and wry, and her books are among my favourites. I can’t think why I’ve not written about her before.
I may have mentioned Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel before on the blog. It’s a classic of Canadian literature. Maggie Vardoe leaves her home in Vancouver and her unhappy marriage to work at a fishing lodge in the interior of British Columbia. The novel is about healing, about the solace of the wilderness, and about identity. The swamp angel in the title, incidentally, is a pearl-handled revolver owned by Maggie’s eccentric friend and confident Nell Severence. While it’s not necessarily a gentle read, this book is, for me, a reaffirming one. The idea of leaving everything behind to head for the hills, or in this case the wilderness of the B.C. interior, has at times held a certain appeal. Wilson’s book might be hard to find in book stores, but it will certainly be in the library if you live in Canada,
I read Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson last year on the recommendation of a reader of this blog. This book is most definitely gentle reading. And I loved it. A reviewer on Good Reads called it “an enjoyable respite from the real world”, and it certainly is that. Miss Buncle is a gentlewoman, a spinster with a diminishing bank account. She needs money but has no talent, so she decides to write a book. The book becomes a smash hit, and earns her a considerable amount of money. But the problem is that it’s about what she knows, life in her own village. And her neighbours are up in arms. Good thing she published under a pseudonym. Stevenson’s writing is pure escapism, funny and sweet, but never saccharine. Like a more light-hearted Barbara Pym.
When I first heard of Miss Buncle’s Book, I found that the library had one tattered copy for which I dutifully waited a week. So I was excited to see it available in Kindle format today. Along with the rest of D.E. Stevenson’s Barbara Buncle series. As a result I’ve been a bit distracted from finishing this post. I bought the second book in the series to read with my lunch, and was hard pressed to sit down again at the computer all afternoon. I mean, a cup of tea, a good book, and the last of the cheese scones were stiff competition for blogging, I’m sorry to say.
And just to prove that I really can cook, here’s a shot I took of the cheese scones I made on the weekend. I was inspired by something I saw on Pinterest. And they seemed the perfect thing to go with our chili supper. I’d never made scones before. Biscuits, tea biscuits, or baking powder biscuits, yes. Scones, not so much. I read a great article on “How to Make Perfect Cheese Scones” from The Guardian before I started. This is the recipe I used. We didn’t have cheddar cheese so we used a combination of Gruyère and some smoked Gouda that we had in the freezer. I also substituted dry mustard for the cayenne. And I must say, they were delicious. Perfect with our favourite chili. Here’s our chili recipe if you’re interested. It’s from the cookbook Eat Shrink and Be Merry.
Now I’ve made a cup of herbal tea with honey and lemon, and I am going to take that, along with my Miss Buncle book, off to bed. There’s been too much distressing news today and I am in need of some gentle reading.
Hopefully it will be sunny and warm tomorrow. Or if not tomorrow then the next day. Sunny enough for me to plan my outfit for our fictional tea party at the Chateau Laurier here in Ottawa on the weekend. I do hope you can join us in a bit of fun. And if possible take a photo of yourself in your tea party outfit. And send it along in an e-mail to me by Thursday night if possible. Here’s the link.
P.S. I hope every one of you are well, and able to cope with whatever challenges you’re facing at the moment. Maybe a little gentle reading will help you like it helps me. If you have any titles you’d like to suggest let us know in the comments.
P.P.S. The book links are affiliate links. I will earn a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking my link.