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I read two truly great books last year: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and If I Had Two Wings by Randall Kenan. But I’m not going to tell you about either one of those right now because both of them did a terrible thing: sent me into a serious reading funk where nothing I picked up after either of them interested me in the least.
I’d dive into all of 2020’s most highly touted novels, scrupulously detailed histories, even little jewel-like short story collections (usually a sure bet for me) but … nope. I’d read five pages, sigh dramatically (hey, get to know me!) and move on to the next thing. Everything just seemed … wan in the immediate afterglow of those two books. Does this ever happen to you?
It happens to me with some regularity, and the only cure I’ve found for this particular type of funk is to turn to the bedside stack of Old Reliables, books I’ve read again and again that act as a sort of (very favorite) sorbet between courses and allow me to finally move on to a new flavor.
But the king of these is Make Way for Lucia, the mammoth omnibus edition that collects E. F. Benson’s six Mapp & Lucia novels, peerless among Books of a Certain Type (sorry, Wodehouse!) and without question the book I would choose as my desert island choice if you were foolish enough to try and make me choose.
Over and over I will read about The War of the Chintz Roses and the poor crushed budgie and the affair of the Countess Diddlione and how two grown-ass women battled over a lobster recipe until they were swept together out to sea on an upside-down dining room table. You know … that old story.
As you can tell from that highlights reel, they’re obviously The Greatest Stories Ever Told, and when you’re done reading them, you’ll be so starved for a novel that thinks it has Big Ideas that your reading slump will be over and you can dive into anything that isn’t the literary equivalent of eating a can of cake frosting.
PS If you just absolutely demand a TV version, make sure you watch the Channel 4 series with Geraldine McEwen and Prunella Scales from 1984 rather than the 2014 BBC Anna Chancellor/Miranda Richardson one. I know: the presence of Richardson as Elizabeth Mapp should have made it a slam dunk, but it’s just not as much back-stabbing fun as the earlier one.
PSS The omnibus edition I mention here is out of print, but all six books in the series are reprinted regularly by responsible Luciaphils who know what it means to Do Good, obviously, and are all quite easily dispensed via post here and here and here. Oh, and you’ll talk like this too when you’ve turned the last page.
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