My Happy (Book) Places

devils-cubOnce several years ago I was waiting for my daughter to come out of a medical appointment. The waiting area was, as is typical, neither particularly comfortable nor particularly cheering, and yet when she came out she stopped and exclaimed “you look so happy!” And I was! Why? Because I had just been reading the part of Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub in which (if you know the novel, you can probably already guess) our heroine Mary accidentally tells the forbidding Duke of Avon all about the troubles she has been having with his renegade son, the Marquis of Vidal, with whom she has, against all propriety and practicality, fallen completely in love. I say “accidentally” because she doesn’t know that the enigmatic man she’s talking to is Vidal’s father–but we do, or at least we suspect it much sooner than she discovers it, and so the whole conversation is just delicious, for reasons you have to read the rest of the novel to fully appreciate.

ringed-castleLast week, because the new books I had been reading weren’t thrilling me, I decided to reread an old favorite, Dorothy Dunnett’s The Ringed Castle. I know this novel so well now that sometimes I skim a bit to get to the parts I particularly love. I read quite a bit of it ‘properly’ this time, because it’s just so good, and it helped reconnect me with my inner bookworm. Near the end, there’s a scene in The Ringed Castle that makes me just as happy as that bit of Devil’s Cub (again, readers of the novel can probably guess which one – in fact, when I mentioned this on Twitter Matt did guess right away!). Even more than the scene in Devil’s Cub, this bit relies for its pleasures on everything else that has happened, not just in The Ringed Castle but in the four preceding books in the series–and it is even better when you know the next book, Checkmate, in which the possibilities awakened in those rare moments of levity and delight (it’s a pretty emotionally fraught series, overall) come at long last to fruition.

A_Room_with_a_View“You look so happy”: that’s not the only thing reading can do, and it isn’t always what we want from our reading, but it’s a special gift when it happens, isn’t it, especially these days? I can think of only a few other scenes that have this particular effect on me: the bathing scene in A Room with a View, the evidence-collecting walk on the beach in Have His Carcase, the rooftop chase in Checkmate (so, score two for Dunnett), the ending of Pride and Prejudice, several small pieces of Cranford (the cow in flannel pyjamas!). Of course there are many, many other reading moments that I love and enjoy and return to over and over, for all sorts of reasons, but these are the some of the ones that make me feel as if I’ve turned my face to the sun: warmed, uplifted, delighted. The joy they give me depends not just on the words on the page but on my history with those pages, and also, as with all idiosyncratic responses, on my own history more generally, and on that elusive thing we could call my “sensibility” as a reader. In that moment everything, not just reading, feels as good as it gets. What a comfort it always is to know that I can return to that happy place any time, just by picking the book up again. carcase3

What are the happiest places in your reading? Is there a scene that you know you can always count on to bring you joy, to turn your face to the sunshine?

16 thoughts on “My Happy (Book) Places

  1. edie overduin March 23, 2021 / 4:58 pm

    Yes! I love Devil’s Cub (as well as most of Georgette Heyer’s other books!) They are my happy books, my comfort food 🙂 I recently purchased Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and look forward to reading them, especially The Ringed Castle!

    • Rohan Maitzen March 24, 2021 / 2:51 pm

      I love all the Lymond books, though I think some people do find them a bit hard going at first. I hope you enjoy them!

  2. Amateur Reader (Tom) March 23, 2021 / 9:52 pm

    Some of mine:

    Sam Weller and his father composing a walentine.

    The mad tea party.

    Christmas in the Little House on the Prairie.

    The dinner party in Pnin – more narrowly, the washing-up scene.

    • Rohan Maitzen March 24, 2021 / 2:53 pm

      Oh, I bet Pickwick is full of joyful moments. I don’t know the novel well (I think I have read it all through only once?) but I am very fond of the Christmas party sequence that is read by Charles Laughton on an old LP my family cherished.

    • Amateur Reader (Tom) March 24, 2021 / 3:58 pm

      I think I could do an all-Christmas version of this exercise without too much trouble.

  3. Jeanne March 24, 2021 / 11:39 am

    A few of mine:
    When they arrive at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Douglas Adams’ novel of the same name.
    When Gen gets an elephant in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Return of the Thief.
    When Sam gets home at the end of LOTR.
    When Codi’s father tells her he doesn’t expect her to like doctoring and follow in his footsteps in Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.
    When Pearl Tull thinks about how loving her first child so much and worrying when he got sick made her want another child and then she was “doubly endangered” in Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.
    When Jennifer T. tells Ethan that their friend Thor Wignutt is like a shadowtail in Chabon’s Summerland.
    When we first see Kirsten as Titania in St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
    When Will Barrett tries to figure out how to say hello on a college campus in Percy’s The Last Gentleman.
    When the boy tells the sergeant how much he believes in him in Harkaway’s Tigerman.

    • Rohan Maitzen March 24, 2021 / 2:54 pm

      I love how particular people’s happy moments are – and that they are so different. Most of these are from novels I haven’t read – I think Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant may be the only Anne Tyler novel I haven’t read (besides her latest one).

      • Jeanne March 25, 2021 / 11:21 am

        I think Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is her best novel.

        • Rohan Maitzen March 25, 2021 / 1:02 pm

          That’s high praise! Now I really want to read it. I don’t think there’s any particular reason I haven’t except not happening across it in bookshops.

  4. Cheryl Weller March 26, 2021 / 2:44 pm

    There are many in Dorothy Sayers’ novels, especially Gaudy Night. I particularly like the quippy things Lord Peter says which are a feature throughout the series and not just in the later ones.

  5. Jeanne April 1, 2021 / 10:57 am

    I read Devil’s Cub this week just to experience the moment you describe. Next up, the Lymond Chronicles.

    • Rohan Maitzen April 1, 2021 / 12:44 pm

      Did you love it? 🙂

      People sometimes say they find the first Lymond book slow going. I never understand this as I have found it riveting since my first read decades ago!

      • Jeanne April 2, 2021 / 9:12 pm

        I neither loved it or hated it; it read like a standard Regency romance.

        • Rohan Maitzen April 3, 2021 / 8:24 am

          I don’t entirely disagree, though without getting into the weeds I would say they are some non-standard elements and that the shooting scene in particular has become somewhat iconic. But really it’s that one scene that delights me so much.

  6. Kate Tudor April 5, 2021 / 7:55 pm

    We read the same books! I’d say you have to read “These Old Shades” as well to get the full piquancy of the scene with Mary. For DD love the rooftop chase, the scene with the Kerrs where Lymond finds himself wrong footed, the pendulum scene in “Dolly and the Nanny Bird”. For DLS the description of the Fens in “The Nine Tailors” and the Peter-Bunter relationship throughout the books, particularly the arrival at Tallboys in “Busmans Honeymoon”

    • Rohan Maitzen April 7, 2021 / 6:20 pm

      Oh, yes, the whole car ride to Tallboys is a delight! And all of the wedding night, really.

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