March Reading

Hi everyone! It’s been so long since I’ve been here that I hesitate even to greet you; I looked back and I find that I took a “break” in August 2018 (too depressed by politics to blog) and kept telling myself that I’d come back in a little while. But I’ve been wanting to write about some of the things I’ve been reading (I was reading, just not blogging!), so here’s a start.

Before I start, though, I want to extend my very warmest wishes to you in the pandemic. I hope all of you are well — healthy and safe — and that your loved ones are safe too. I hope you have enough supplies and that your anxiety is at a manageable level. It would seem as if readers would be excellently suited to our present time, but I am finding that my concentration span isn’t very good, and I read in short bursts. Much love and care to all of you and those you love.

I thought I’d start whatever return this is going to be, by doing a March roundup. It was a good reading month for me:


I’ll just hit the highlights! The biggest standout for me was Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. I didn’t read this book on purpose because of our situation — it was just next on the TBR list, because I try to read at least one pre-20th century book a month. But as I read it, I was blown away by how interesting, touching, and above all relevant it is. Defoe wrote the book in 1722 as a faux “memoir” of the 1665 year of plague in London. It was eighty years before anyone realized it was a fake, because it was so realistic and because he drew from historical sources to make it ring true. But even though I don’t know much of the history myself, it still rings true: the difficulty of quarantining people, the way an epidemic weighs harder on the poor than on the rich, the hoarding and the panic, the fear and grief, the way leadership matters. I can’t recommend this more strongly.

Other Jenny has been recommending Rumer Godden as long as I can remember, and I absolutely loved In This House of Brede. The practical view of life in an abbey — the reality of a vocation, and the highs and lows of life with the other nuns, and the issues of administration — it was so well written and satisfying. I didn’t know anything about Godden, but it turns out she was almost exactly a contemporary of my grandmother, who also grew up in India (the daughter of a Scottish missionary) until she was sixteen, and then came to the US. I wonder if my grandmother knew and loved Rumer Godden; it seems like the kind of book she’d have adored.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick blew me away. A colleague of mine loaned me this book of Hurston’s short stories, some of which have been “lost” for many years. Some of these stories are tragic, some are hilarious, some show Hurston’s anthropological background as she observes her community. I enjoyed every single one. Have any of you read Barracoon?

Bend Sinister is the ninth book of Nabokov’s I’ve read, and it’s the most overt: this is a book about being trapped in a nightmarish dictatorship, and how that changes, and eventually crushes, everything worth while. Nabokov was equally against fascism and Stalinism, and this book is a sort of mashup of the two; Adam Krug, the philosopher at the center of the story, is a heavy-set, hairy man, but he’s still like one of Nabokov’s beloved butterflies as he tries to escape the impossible. It sounds depressing (and in many ways it is sad, though no great book can be really depressing), but it’s also funny, and dazzling, and even hopeful.

I’ll stop now, before I review every book I read this month! If you have questions or thoughts about other ones, let me know in the comments! There was only one book this month I did not like, so I’m just leaving off before this gets too long, not because I didn’t enjoy the other ones. And… it feels good to be back.

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25 Responses to March Reading

  1. Shannon says:

    Good to see you back! Enjoyed reading your thoughts on your March reads.

  2. A good night for mothing.

    • Jenny says:

      Is it true that one of his editors misread this line and tried to correct it? But this book was splendid. I am too ignorant to have caught all his jokes (this will always be true) but I especially like the reappearance of the empty boxes in the shape of books.

    • True, I don’t know. It’s plausible, at least.

      A good book for re-reading.

  3. Swistle says:


  4. How was the Kent Haruf? I have that trilogy to read.
    The Zora Neale Hurston sounds good too.
    Welcome back.

    • Jenny says:

      I really, really enjoyed Eventide. I read Plainsong a couple of months ago, and just loved it, and this one was just as good — very plain and simple language, about ordinary human lives, culminating in something extraordinary. It kind of reminds me of Marilynne Robinson’s books, but not religious at all.

      And the Hurston was really striking. It made me want to read, or re-read, more works from the Harlem Renaissance, to have more of a comparison.

      • Oh that’s so great to hear about the Haruf, thanks I can’t wait to start Plainsong. And I’m going to try and get hold of the Hurston.
        I just read and reviewed Bernice McFadden’s The Book of Harlan, have you read that? Much of it set in 1930’s Harlem, I thought it was brilliant.

      • Jenny says:

        I haven’t read anything at all by Bernice McFadden, and you remind me I’ve wanted to for a long time! Thanks for the reminder — that sounds great.

  5. Elle says:

    Welcome back!

  6. Jeanne says:

    Hey! I have Trail of Lightning on my pile because as one conference I’d been looking forward to was canceled, a friend mentioned that the author of Trail of Lightning was scheduled to be at Wiscon and maybe we could meet there instead, at the end of May. Don’t think that’s happening either, now, but I’m planning on reading the book soon.

    • Jenny says:

      I’m so glad to hear from you, Jeanne, you’re one of the people I’ve thought of and visited often.

      I’ll be glad to hear what you think of Trail of Lightning. As it happens, I wasn’t too impressed by it. I wanted to like it, and there were good things about it, and parts of it were really entertaining, but a lot of it was just really not up my fairly-broad alley.

      Have you read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians? I’m watching the show on Netflix and, let’s put it this way, I’m wondering if the books are better.

      • Jeanne says:

        I’ve read all the Lev Grossman Magicians books and thought they got better as they went along. The Magician King (the third, I think) is my favorite. But I also love the show. The plot of it is nothing like the books, so I never know what’s going to happen next. And the Musical Episode!!! And the one where they talk in literary tropes!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Rohan Maitzen says:

    Welcome back! What an interesting array. I just reread ‘Our Souls at Night’ and loved it all over again, so I’m glad to be reminded of ‘Eventide,’ which is one of Haruf’s I haven’t read yet. I agree about the M Robinson comparison. I don’t think I could face the Defoe right now: I need to keep my head away from worry at least some of the time!

    • Jenny says:

      Hi, Rohan! I’m so glad to hear from you, and I hope you’re keeping well.

      I loved Our Souls at Night — it was the first of Haruf’s I read — and I’m glad it holds up to rereading. I’ll say that I read the Defoe before things got really bad here, but I do think that sometimes reading what others have gone through before us can feel more like solidarity than worry. To me, anyway. But perhaps put it on a list for later, when this is safely over?

  8. alison41 says:

    Many years ago (over 60) read several of Rumer Godden’s books, and loved them. I recall them being very vivid and colourful. I keep meaning to read Kent Haruf, he’s not available here, so that means an on-line purchase … not always doable. I thoroughly disliked the Buried Giant; on the whole, I’m not an Ishiguro fan.
    Welcome back!

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you! It took me a little while to understand what Ishiguro was doing with The Buried Giant, but once I settled into the book (probably 40 pages) I enjoyed it very much, and the end was extremely touching. I also liked When We Were Orphans, but again, it took me some time to decide what it was actually getting at. All three of his books that i’ve read (the other is The Remains of the Day) have been heavily about memory and reliability, which is interesting since the three are so different from each other. I’d certainly be interested to read more.

  9. Marg says:

    Welcome back! I made a come back this year after about a year. It does feel good to be back.

  10. HI PROPER JENNY! How lovely to see you around these parts! And praising a book that I recommended! I feel like my birthday has come early! I’m really glad you liked In This House of Brede, which is among my favorite of Rumer Godden’s books, and also kind of apt for this era of staying inside. :P May I cordially recommend A Candle for St. Jude next? It’s kind of a bottle episode of a book, and I adore it.

    • Jenny says:

      Other Jenny!!! I’m so happy to hear from you!! I hope you are very, extremely well. Thank you for the recommendation — I discovered that I have a whole shelf of Godden’s books at my university (oh so enticing if I could get at them) and I was wondering which one to snag next when I can stroll by the shelves once again. I think there are about ten of her books there.

      Please stay safe and well, and love to you and all those you love.

  11. Great list of books but for me this is not only for march this is entirely for year 2020. I love to repeat reading books that I love.

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