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Episode 22 – Librarian’s choice

Comfort Reads

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This episode I am going to be sharing with you some of my favourite comfort reads and what delicious thing I would pair with them for a wonderful reading experience!

It’s an interesting time to be in Melbourne right now, for me the current vibe is quite different from the first lockdown. Then there was an almost frenetic energy about needing to isolate. Now, at least what I am feeling, is a bit more of a malaise, you know? That general feeling of discomfort, unease and it’s also a little bit heavy, like there’s a weighted blanket on you and staying in bed is just the best you can do right now. And that’s okay if so.

I really struggle to read books in times like these. Where I would normally read a few books a week, right now I’m lucky to get through one. And trying to read a new book, even one I am super interested in, is quite tough. There are days I manage it, and there are days when I reach for my comfort reads. 

So today I wanted to share these with you, these favourite comforting, gentle and sometimes not so gentle reads and perhaps they can help you get some reading in too.

 
The pairings:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer is a favourite which I paired with a delicious La Sirene wild ale – the Praline – in episode 2.

This is a classic, beautiful story set in the aftermath of WW2 England and follows a group of people picking up the pieces of their lives and discovering what their future might be. It is sweetly bitter and goes delightfully with the chocolatey, nutty, vanilla, creamy, complex, sweet and elegant Praline!

In episode 9 whilst chatting with the lovely Australian speculative fiction writer Samantha Marshall I recommended The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is an enchanting story about a shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a buried treasure he dreamed about finding. Along the way he meets many people who point him in the direction of his quest which turns out to be about more than just worldly goods but about the treasure found within. It is a simple story with such wonderful warmth and a golden heart, slightly sweet and very soothing so i’d pair it with a delicious turmeric latte made with coconut milk.

I spoke about I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith in episode 12 with the lovely librarian and youth advocate Adele Walsh. Through six turbulent months of 1934, 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain keeps a journal, filling three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries about her home, a ruined Suffolk castle, and her eccentric and penniless family. All their lives will be transformed by the arrival of rich new neighbours from America, and Cassandra finds herself falling in love. This is a lovely, gentle read with a great voice in Cassandra. It is a book which feels quite nostalgic, with a longing for a happier past, yet it is hopeful for the future. I paired this book with something wholesome and calming, a delicious chicken soup or a chamomile tea for the perfect wintery day comfort read!

And now some other suggestions which are what I am reaching for now:

The Talents saga by Anne McCaffrey

This is an epic series and one of my favourite things to do is to read the whole series again, from start to finish! Yes, I am one of those people who love to re-read books! If they are good enough I often read so quickly the first time I feel like I miss things but there is also that comfort aspect of knowing exactly what is going to happen. 

There are 8 books which make up the core 2 series which come under the Talents Universe and it all starts with To Ride Pegasus. This is actually a collection of 4 short stories first published in 1973! All the books feature Talents, people with psionic powers such as empathy, telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition, and the ability to find what is lost (‘finders’).

This first book begins with the fortunate scientific discovery of psionic powers and the earliest establishment of Talents in human society, in New York late during the 20th century. The ‘precog’ Henry Darrow does not avoid his own foreseen car accident. In the hospital where he ends up, a talented nurse, Molly, notices his unusual electroencephalograph (EEG) recordings and they complete the discovery together and can not only prove that parapsychic powers exist but also, who has them. We then follow the ups and downs of the Talents as they fight to be respected and legally protected. 

The story is pretty epic in scope, it spans several lives and years and looks at the politics of a minority group of people often called ‘freaks’ becoming organised and making their place in a society which doesn’t always accept people who are different. 

The world which the author creates is not so different from our own, but also so futuristic it’s incredible to think these stories were written in the late 60’s early 70’s! And the writing always draws me in, the characters are fully realised and I am always invested in them.

This series is only one of many written by Anne McCaffrey and I love them all really.

Her most famous is the Dragonriders of Pern which are all fabulous, mostly fantasy but with some SF in there also. All definitely highly recommended of course!

To go with any of these books I would have to suggest an Old Fashioned … but with a twist!

I chose this pairing because whilst I love Anne McCaffreys books, they are old fashioned and some of them are somewhat problematic when viewed through a modern lens.

A Cocoa Old-Fashioned, just perfect for this winter weather with its use of a three day cacao-nib infused warming rye whiskey and just a few dashes of a mole bitters which adds a sweet and spicy touch to this classic shock of alcohol will help smooth some of the bumpy aspects and the sweet and spicy notes will go perfectly with these stories of love and family, of what is human and what is alien. 

 

As an aside, I was also thinking of talking about another favourite re-read of mine which is a series by David Eddings – not the Belgariad or the Mallorean although I love those, but the Elenium and the Tamuli. If you like your fantasy with Knights on Quests and Magic and Gods, different cultures, strong women and handsome men, then this is a great series for you!

To be drunk with an Imperial IPA – full of hops and flavour and warmth.

 

My next recommendation is going to be the two novellas River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey. Otherwise known as American Hippo when they are together in one volume.

 Yep, you heard right … American HIPPO.

Years ago, in an alternate America, the United States government introduced herds of hippos to the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This plan failed to take into account some key facts about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

By the 1890s, the vast bayou that was once America’s greatest waterway belongs to feral hippos, and Winslow Houndstooth has been contracted to take it back. To do so, he will gather a crew of the damnedest cons, outlaws, and assassins to ever ride a hippo. American Hippo is the story of their fortunes, their failures, and his revenge.

1890s Louisiana, with hippos. Feral hippos. Hippo ranchers and outlaw hippo wranglers. Queer misfits on a quest. Did I mention hippos? It’s as weird and fun as it sounds. You’re welcome.

Seriously one of the only books I have managed to read these last few weeks was another Sarah Gailey novella, Upright Women Wanted, and her take on the American West is just super fun and will take you completely out of this world we are in right now. 

American Hippo is not always pretty, it’s definitely not easy, but it’s fun, spunky, sharp, dry, dry, dry and it’s darkly ridiculous. It’s also very loosely based on a true story when just such a plan to introduce hippos into America was proposed to Congress in 1910.

If you like hippos, obviously, explosions, romance, fights, diverse characters, poisoners, the Old West, but with hippos, then you will like these stories and honestly they are a breath of fresh air!

These characters are hard drinkers so we’re gonna keep it simple here and pair American Hippo with a Tequila Honeysuckle.

Tequila, honey syrup and lime. Sweet, sharp, dry and delicious. What could be better?

 

Before I finish I want to also shout out the new Baby Sitters Club on Netflix, what a gorgeous fresh take on a classic! It has been updated really well with a lovely youthful feel yet a hint of nostalgia, this has been such a joy to watch when my brain has not wanted to do much at all. 

What it does though is make me want a spider – no, not the 8 legged kind, but the drink!

I believe in countries other than mine it is known as an ice cream float or ice cream soda,  Basically it is a decent scoop of vanilla ice cream in a cola or other kind of soft drink. As an adult I must confess this sounds disgusting. And yet, I want one. 

 

There are so many more books I could talk about, favourite romance books, favourite kids books, but I will leave it there.

 

This episode of Literary Elixirs was recorded via Zoom, please forgive any minor technical glitches!   

Into/Outro music is Mosquito Mojito by Rachel K. Collier. Sourced from Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Licence.