15 October 2010

Is there such a thing as American cozy?

  
As the weather has gone delightfully chilly and I snuggle up in the library in my pajamas with candles burning and music playing, my thoughts turn to cozy. Many of you kindred spirits who read My Porch share my interest in the occasional cozy read. You know what that means, something that is comforting and enjoyable to read. It, doesn't mean they are always happy books, and it certainly doesn't mean that they are necessarily light weight either. But they do induce a certain amount of calm. They feel like friends or a literary snuggle.

Of course definitions of cozy can be pretty broad and varied. I can think of many different authors that could be considered cozy

Fundamentally Cozy
E.F. Bensen
E.M. Delafield
Joyce Dennis
Paul Gallico
P.G. Wodehouse (?)

Complex Cozy
Anita Brookner
Barbara Pym
Most things from Persephone

Youthful Cozy
Anne of Green Gables
Heidi
The Secret Garden

Old Fashion Cozy
Jane Austen
Anthony Trollope
Perhaps Wilkie Collins and even Dickens for those that like him

With the exception of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series (Canadian) and Heidi (Swiss) my idea of cozy is decidedly British. (I should be spelling it 'cosy' I guess, but the My Porch Manual of Style won't allow it.)

American Cozy
Hmm...what about...no...maybe...mmm not really. What could be considered American Cozy? Is there American Cozy?

Let me try again...

Maybe Laura Engalls Wilder?
May Sarton could be complex cozy, especially her journals.
I know Miss Read fans would put her on the list. UPDATE: D'oh! Michelle Ann pointed out that Miss Read is English. What was I thinking?! I have read about four of her books. Maybe it is because American blogger Book Psmith is so into them. But she is also into Wodehouse and he sure isn't American. Sheesh. I guess my brain melted a bit.

There is some temptation to overlap with chick-lit, but while those may be highly enjoyable, I don't think I would put them in the cozy camp.

Books on books can be hugely cozy. In fact Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road is like the Empress of Cozy. But, although Hanff was an American and half the book takes place in America, the focus seems a little too Anglocentric to truly be American Cozy. Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris could though.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home Maker is definitely American Cozy. Of course it took British publisher Persephone to revive this gem.

I think I could put American food writer Ruth Reichl on the cozy list. Her three volumes of memoirs are delightfully cozy. Just make sure you have something delicious to eat near to hand.

Edith Wharton would fall into the Traditional American Cozy, and to some degree Henry James as well. I think a case could be made for Willa Cather as well.

But all this feels a bit like stretching. Is the cozy read uniquely British? Which authors or books would you consider to be American Cozy?

31 comments:

  1. Laurie Colwin! I haven't thought of her books in a long time, but when I thought about your (wonderful) question, that is who came to mind. Colwin died relatively young, and her books seem to have disappeared from the literary conversation. Another couple of names that come to mind: Gail Godwin, Jane Smiley, Alison Lurie. I don't know why they are cozy-ish to me, but they are. Love the question! I can't wait to hear what others say....

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just finished Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of Pointed Firs and Related Stories, and I can put her down as definitely American cozy!

    - Christy

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love your youthful cozy--going to reread my old childhood copy of Heidi and can't say enough about Anne. Also love everything about The Secret Garden.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hmmm, thinking, thinking. Got up, looked at my library and every time I think I've found an American Cozy I realize that the author is either British or Scottish. I agree with your selection (Miss Read, definitely). I'll check back to read the comments.

    Tip of the hat to you for an excellent post.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I second Sarah Orne Jewett - very cosy. You know, I was just thinking this the other day. I had taken loads of earnest American books out of the library and all I wanted was to curl up in bed and read something cosy. You know what I reached for? Little Women. Definitely American and definitely cosy.

    As an Englishwoman though, cosy is, for me, a fire, a cup of tea, a plate of toast and a Jane Austen novel. I do think the English do cosy like no other nation!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fun list! Definitely Laurie Colwin, both her food writing and her novels and stories. I don't think of Ruth Reichl as 'cozy,' though! Gladys Taber (that's a cozy name in itself), who wrote the Stillmeadow books in the 1950s. Madeleine L'Emgle (both her children's books and her memoirs). And definitely (though we're back to British) Angela Thirkell.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can think of some more in the American "Youthful Cozy" category. The All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, anything by Elizabeth Enright and Edward Eager too. I definitely agree with the Little House books being included - The Long Winter is a perfect cosy read! I also love the What Katy Did series by Susan Coolidge.

    ReplyDelete
  8. My first thought was Little Women. And I wouldn't call Edith Wharton cosy!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hmm, depends how you define cosy. I think a good cosy is a well told story, with a mainly domestic background, which may have humour and sadness, but nothing too horrible. It should also not be too twee, and have a little bit of bite.
    I agree with most of your selection, but Miss Read is English, not American!

    American books I would add are Gone with the Wind, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Bibliophiliac: With the exception of Smiley's Moo, I haven't read any books by these authors. This gives me something to discover.

    Christy: I was thinking about putting SOJ on the list, but my memory failed me.

    Denise: Funny thing about the youthful Secret Garden and Heidi is that I didn't read them until I was in my 30s.

    Kim: I had the same problem at first.

    Rachel: I am glad you found something American cozy. I have never read LW, but from the film I can see how that would fit. I've told John on many occassions that I would love any a book or film that includes British people eating toast.

    Audrey: Colwin mentioned twice. Must look into her. I have a Taber in my TBR pile. A lot of the content in Reichl isn't cozy, but for me they definitely make for cozy reading.

    Miranda: Oddly enough, even though I am from Minnesota and have been to Walnut Grove and seen Plum Creek, I have never read LEW. I should probably rectify that.

    Mary: On Edith Wharton, I tend to feel literature from that period, unless the language or style is too demanding, to be comforting. Like old reliable friends. They may be troubled or complex, but they are still a comfort.

    Michelle Ann: Thanks for stopping by. I agree twee goes too far, and I think Miss Read is twee. Thanks for pointing out my mistake. I never would think of GWTW as cozy, but I haven't read it. I agree on ATGIB.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Fascinating post Thomas! I love cosy reads. I'd probably add the "Mystery Cosy" and the "Travel Cosy." Agree with Sarah Orne Jewett, Laurie Colwin and Gladys Taber wholeheartedly. Louisa May Alcott too. I'd probably add M.F.K Fisher's books/essays, Booth Tarkington's Penrod series (though I haven't read them for years and haven't spotted them in the UK). Alice Thomas Ellis was a British Author whose novels weren't cosy for me, but I do love her essays collected as Home Life.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Excellent question! When I saw Pym on your list, I immediately thought of Sarton--and was thrilled to see you've listed her.

    How about Eudora Welty? Kind of a stretch in some ways, but I think her deep-southern-family style makes me feel cozy, at least...

    ReplyDelete
  13. What a great post! Definitely giving me something to think about because I too find almost all my cosy reads are British. But I do think we should give half credit for Wodehouse since he became an American citizen in 1955:) I definitely consider Ingalls Wilder to be partially cosy because I always had that feeling whenever her writing was set in the winter. And Little Women for sure is my idea of a cosy read. Like I said, what a great post...got me thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Just read the comments and have to second skirmishofwit's vote for Elizabeth Enright...the Melendy series is very cosy.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Let me add my voice to those recommending Laurie Colwin. A couple I haven't seen anyone else mention: Gene Stratton Porter and Mildred Walker. Stratton Porter is an old favorite especially the Limberlost novels and I've just begun working my way through Mildred Walker's novels. So far I think Winter Wheat is the best. Oh, and Bess Streeter Aldrich--definitely American cozy.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Interesting question! I was certain I'd be able to think of an obvious quintessential American cozy that we were all missing, only to find that I couldn't think of a single one! I would actually hesitate to call either Wharton or James cozy writers, simply because I think their works are too sad to be comforting!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Laurie Colwin's "Home Cooking" and "More Home Cooking" are so great. Her novels too, and short stories. All great. I wish there were more.

    Louise Andrews Kent - her "Mrs. Appleyard" books are my comfort food.

    Bess Streeter Aldrich is good, though sad. Sort of Laura Ingalls Wilder for grown-ups. "A Lantern in Her Hand" I particularly love.

    Nice topic, lovely post, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I forgot to add Vivian Swift's illustrated memoir "When Wanderers Cease to Roam." Tea, cats, art, staying home, reminiscing. She has a good blog, too.

    ReplyDelete
  19. After my grandmother died, my brothers & I divided up her stuff and I got some 19th Century antiques, a 1920s Navajo rug & a complete set of Gene Stratton Porter novels. They'd been on a high shelf in her libary ever since I can remember, and when I wa a kid, I remember my Grandmother's suggestion that I read them, but I never did, partly because I preferred The Hardy Boys but mostly because I was too busy, what with exploring the nearby woods & trying to catch crawdads along the muddy shore of Lake Vermilion. All these years later, of course, I know that my annual quest for bugs & snakes & abandoned birds' nests was one of the reasons my grandmother had suggested that I read Porter's books in the first place, but by the time I figured all that out, she was already dead. At any rate, her books became my books, and I kept them because they had her name inscribed in girlish script in faded ink, but I still might never have read any of them if, one year, a bad case of the flu hadn't laid me up for ten days with nothing new to read.

    After reading The Keeper of the Bees and A Girl of the Limberlost, I did a little Googling and discovered that Stratton was a woman, not the man the name 'Gene' had led me to expect, and that she--and her character in Limberlost, Elnora Comstock--had lived in the same area of Southern Indiana where my Grandmother had grown up as well, collecting bugs & frogs. I also learned that despite (or maybe, because of) Stratton's former popularity, her books are often dismissed as the literary equivalents of Thomas Kinkade's rosy-tinted paintings of cozy cottages at twilight: that is, absolute crap.

    Now, maybe, if I hadn't already read two of Stratton's books, I might have accepted that critique as valid--lord knows there's a lot of crap out there--but it turns out that I actually liked her books, or at least, the ones I read. Maybe it was just the Nyquil talking, but considering the fact that the books were written a hundred years ago, they struck me as amazingly straightforward in their treatment of things like psychologically abusive parents, the feelings of loneliness & irational guilt of some kids & the casual cruelty of others, class distinctions and the the cyncism towards paternalitic-but-ineffective government programs felt by disabled soldiers suffering from symptoms of what we'd call Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

    continued...

    ReplyDelete
  20. ...continued

    What was really surprising, though, is that, originally, these books were apparently written for young people. The various worlds that Porter writes about are entirely unlike the orderly suburban universe where the Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew lived in middle-class comfort a few decades later, where, although there were kidnappers & smugglers & jewel thieves, real (but less exciting) problems like loneliness & poverty & despair didn't exist. In Porter's stories, they do.

    Characters develop, too--or maybe they just open themselves up--to reveal, say, glimpses of kindness & nobility below the spoiled, shallow surface of a pampered Chicago debutante, or the desperate craving for affection hidden beneath a poor widow's mask of proud self-sufficiency. If I had read these books when I was ten--instead of when I was fifty--I might have had my first real glimpse of the weird forces that made grown-ups tick. Conversely, reading it at fifty was a good reminder that a seemingly carefree ten-year old's happy smile may very well be a mask to hide a deeply unhappy life. The moral of the story, of course, is be kind to everybody, since we never know what demons other people have to fight every day.

    Anyway, it's been a decade since I read A Girl of the Limberlost and I not only don't remember much about the plot, I can't even remember how the book ends, but I do know that when Gene Stratton Porter created Elnora Comstock, she created one hell of a girl.

    Porter's books: 'cozy'? I'm not sure. But worth reading? Oh, yeah.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I adored the Little House books when I was younger. How about Lousia May Alcott?

    ReplyDelete
  22. EXCELLENT QUESTION! Perhaps this is why I prefer British novels. I'm racking my brains and can't think of a single American cozy novel.

    Perhaps I should ponder more.... (ponder, ponder, ponder...)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Laura Ingalls Wilder for sure.

    I haven't read it yet but would A Tree Grows in Brooklyn count as cosy? Persephone reissued Susan Glaspell was my idea of cosy but then a Persephone, tea and cake epitomise cosy for me.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Rambling Fancy: You've given a lot to think about. I have read The Magnificent Ambersons but haven't tried any other Tarkington.

    Lifetime Reader: I am glad you thought of Sarton as well. I understand you bringing up Welty but my personal bias doesn't find the South cozy. It always seems to hot.

    Stacy: Speaking of Wodehouse, a while back (before you returned to the blogging world) I posted a link to a BBC website where they have videos of author's being interviewed. There is a great one with Wodehouse. You should check it out.

    Joy: How fantastic, I don't know any other authors you mention. It is like discovering a lost world. Can't wait to look into them.

    Steph: I had the same reaction. I thought for sure there must be something I was missing.

    Sarah: With a name like "Mrs. Appleyard", how could ti not be cozy?

    Magnaverde: How lovely that your grandmother gave you a reading legacy. Kind of wonderful to realize that she knew you better than you thought she did. Outdoorsy doesn't immediately suggest cozy, but I can definitely see how it could.

    A Bookish Space: I really need to read the Little House books. The show was a huge part of my childhood, but I never read the books.

    Amanda: I think while many British writers were busy drinking tea, our writers were still trying to conquer a wild continent.

    Claire: I would definitely consider A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as cozy, despite the poverty and such.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I don't think America is a "cozy" place. Cozies are a very middle class, very British sort of thing. Even when they are about the upper classes, their intended audience always seems very middle class.

    I did think of the Little House books right away, and I think Cather is a good chioce. While I don't read him at all, I think Garrison Kiellor's Praire Home Companion stuff is very cozy. That maybe why we don't have cozy books. Americans who want cozy can get a good two hour doze every week on their radios.

    Oh, My English professor in 1985 firmly believed that Henry James should be considered a British novelist. He was not an English professor one could ever argue with either.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Christopher Morley. Parnassus On Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop are could be considered cozy. I would agree with Gene Stratton-Porter as well. Still thinking on others...
    Fun topic, btw! :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. Your youthful cozy is perfect. I would add "wind in the willows" and "swallows and amazons". Oh and maybe "the Railway children "

    For American I would absolutely add "Little Women" but also "Good wives" and "Jo's Boys"... Wonderful sequels.

    Would Ann Tyler count as american cozy?

    ReplyDelete
  28. I wouldn't call Jane Austen cosy - she was a satirist! Louisa M Alcott, certainly for American cosy and Adriana Trigiani - chicklit cosy. Love both of em!

    ReplyDelete
  29. What about Carol Shields? She might qualify as a Bi-national cozyist. I'm thinking mostly about Happenstance.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I find British writers much cozier than American. I even feel that way about movies. When I want something cozy to watch it's always some like The Holiday or Love Actually because of their British influence.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Some have compared Jan Karon's Mitford series to Miss Read's books, and I think they could be considered cozies.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.