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A note to our readers: Our comments function is still not working properly or consistently. We’ve got someone looking into it! We are so sorry for the frustration. 

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.

There’s always Angela Thirkell and Sybille Bedford and there’s always Muriel Spark. A Room with a View. Dawn Powell, Glenway Westcott. The Andy Warhol Diaries. Cornell Woolrich, Chester Himes.

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.

Au reservoir!

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.

MDK receives a commission for books purchased through affiliate links in this post.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.


  • Been on my reading list – along w Nancy Mitford/Love in a Cold Climate, and Gibbons/Cold Comfort Farm, Smith/I Capture the Castle. I should have picked one of these up after Bedford’s A Legacy.
    Here’s to the library of great BBC shows – Forsythe Saga anyone? (Did read those)

    • I read all the Forsythe Saga books. I loved them all the books, Who can forget Soames and Irene, just to name a few characters. The original BBC/PBS series from 1967 is great to watch with Eric Porter, Kenneth More, and a cast of other good actors.

    • I Capture the Castle is one of my all time feel good reads!

      • I loved I Capture the Castle. It was on my bookcase for too long before I read it. It was a delight with good writing and characters.

        • I loved the old tv series and I bought it. t was the best and Haven’t read the books. Sounds like I should give it a go.

  • I totally agree about the Mapp and Lucia Books. And also, I Capture the Castle (after you have read the M and L books and need another read!)

  • There are people who believe I only read non-fiction and follow a well-balanced diet. This is not entirely true. Tucked away in the library (the former homeowner was an English professor), right next to Miss Manners, is a copy of Make Way for Lucia. A friend and I bonded over these tales when we co-chaired our neighborhood home tour. It was our vade mecum for a time when the absurdity of the events seemed all too real. There was a homeowner who dressed in full Civil War period costume to represent the era of her home…and then hid in her attic the entire day of the tour. (And there is a can of frosting hidden in my freezer. Sometimes I take it our and eat it straight.)

    Thank you for the recommendation. I will be moving Lucia to the bedside pile.

    • I too love Miss Manners and have two books squirrelled away. After a difficult term, I particularly enjoyed her guide to raising children!

  • Reading DG Strong is always a great way to start my day. I am on the purchasing committee for our CCRC library and appreciate his recommendations. I’ve watched Mapp and Lucia but never read the novels, more to add to my TBR list when I find them. Lots to absorb in this column. I love the diversity of writers and topics that MDK offers. Thank you Ann and Kay!

  • Went through mine again this winter, all the way and not skipping to the dining table first….great junk shop find 20 years ago. But it sure cut into my knitting time!

    • It is possible to knit and read at the same time! Follow Elizabeth’s advice; she explains how to do it. I once found myself knitting, reading, and counting at the same time. But as soon as I was aware that I was doing it I couldn’t count while knitting and reading.

  • Shuggie Bain won’t leave my memory though I read it months ago. Haven’t run into anyone who read it. Thank you for including it. I will add the others to my reading list.

    • I read it. I miss Shuggie.

  • I have the six in one edition too! Love it. Seeing the new TV version will be a treat, though who could beat Geraldine McEwan as Queen Elizabeth?

  • I loved SHUGGIE Bain too. What a read!

  • I discovered the M & L series years ago in the library and watched it a couple of times in a row. Didn’t know it was a book so Ij’ll check it out tomorrow. Scales and McEwan are so very brilliant in all that they do. Lucky us!

    • I’ve just put it on my Britbix Watch List. This is an all new books/series for me. Anything with Scales and McEwan is worth watching. Thanks MDK for recommending it.

  • Mapp and Lucia do it for me everytime.

  • And there’s the whole of the Barbara Pym canon. And Mary Wesley. And Penelope lively.

  • some of the Mapp & Lucia books are available on Project Gutenberg. The can be downloaded to ereaders.

  • Today’s earworm: The Moonlight Sonata.

    • Just the first movement!

  • Cue Moonlight Sonata. Only the first movement, the slow part.

  • About 25 years ago I found myself on a train, sitting next to Anna Coit (she was an amazing woman of amazing accomplishments). We spent the whole train ride talking about Lucia, Georgie, and Miss Mapp. And we stayed in touch until she died, about16 years later.

  • I read the Mapp and Lucia books about every 5 years. All’s right with the world when these two are at war.

  • If you like these, I think you will also enjoy Blue Desert, a first novel by Celia Jeffries, although it is certainly less depressing. It is beautifully written, well researched, and fast paced, grabbing you immediately. My reading group loved it.

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