Is it unnecessary and even unprofitable to analyze my reading habits? Why not just read what I like? Because I don’t seem to know what I like, or what I have the strength for. In times of stress, such as in my current bereavement and during my husband’s illness before that, the intellect still jumps at the chance to read books of theology or philosophy, so I have gone on acquiring stacks of them… only to find that my mind will not be engaged enough to get through the first chapter.
Or, I try a “good novel,” hoping to be pulled into the story and have some vicarious excitement. Aha – that is the problem, as I realized yesterday, sick and sitting by the fire with a quiet book. I need rest, not excitement. I need, as I wrote a few years ago about another novel, to embark on a reading journey “as one takes a needed vacation or The Cure at a sanatorium.”
Rumer Godden is a writer whose presence on the pages of her fiction or non-fiction is always strangely comforting and nourishing to me. I suppose my recent acceptance of weakness led me to take her China Court off the shelf, after passing over it for years. Lately it seems that I have almost daily been wandering among the four rooms that house parts of my library, as I look for the Right Book. As I held this one in my lap I mused about why it is that.
When you need to heal and build strength, where do you like to be? Me, I like to be either alone in an orderly and comfortable place, or with kind and gentle, competent people who take care of the place and might even cook for me. If there is a garden attached, and lovers of trees and flowers who might stroll its paths with me, all the better. I could sojourn in this place indefinitely, until I felt in my bones the renewed energy that would prompt me to go home and dig in my own garden or clean house.
Being in Rumer Godden’s books is like that. And China Court is especially so, because it is about a well-appointed house and the generations who have lived and worked and died there, servants making up beds with fresh, age-softened linens and a grandmother who secretly hand-picks little bouquets for her favorite people to find on their nightstands. It has the drama of stories going back a hundred years, if you want that, but it is mostly about being there with real humans, many of them quite sympathetic, and of course none of them requiring anything of me.
I haven’t read too far yet 🙂 but I was charmed by this one scene and wanted to share it:
In the big house in Cornwall the large Quin Family gathers downstairs while breakfast is being cooked in the kitchen nearby. As the father Eustace reads from the Bible and prayer book…
The smell of bacon drifts across the Lord’s Prayer — always for Eliza, the two are mingled, though she does not, at that age, get any of the bacon — and as the smell rises Eustace increases his pace….breakfast is waiting; the children, upstairs, have porridge and milk, white bread and the second best butter; but for Eustace and Adza the morning-room table is laid with porridge in blue and white plates, cream, brown bread, muffins, honey and rolls, while the bacon keeps in a silver dish over a flame, with another dish of kidneys or sausages or sometimes kedgeree.
-from China Court by Rumer Godden
Do you wonder what kedgeree is? I had never heard of it, but when I read on this page Kedgeree and saw the picture, it made me want to try making some myself. Sounds tasty!
Last week I was frying something using bacon fat left over from our Christmas feasting, and the smell of it warming in the pan brought back happy memories of my father and his mountain cabin, my grandma’s kitchen… it was curious how nourished I felt, before I had taken a bite.
I enjoyed reading about this Victorian Era breakfast and the well-supplied kitchen and staff that produced it. I sipped my tea before the fire, glad that I long ago graduated from the Porridge Upstairs stage of life, because I do like a little meat with my breakfast, though I haven’t tried kidneys yet. Winter days are cozy when taken with Rumer Godden, some bacon — and of course, prayer!