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.