What We Talk about When We Talk about Light Reading

Am I light?  Am I buoyant?

What a joke.

A Greek noun notebook.

Years ago a professor begged me to chat in a class of silent students because I was  “effervescent.” Those bubbles were an act.  Shortly thereafter I had a panic attack while drinking coffee with two pre-law students from that very  class.

I was overwhelmed by their normalcy.  I realized they probably did not have abortions, alcoholic husbands, or inhabit  converted chicken coops like the people I knew.  I truly did want to be their friend.  I smiled glazedly, said I had a class, and went home and memorized irregular Greek verbs instead.

Greek grammar was my light reading. It put me back together. Crosby and Schaeffer, our Greek textbook (called by the authors’ names), was my equivalent of the Valium doctors handed out like candy.  You would have laughed to see me  happily scribbling Greek declensions of nouns in front of a wood-burning stove at a friend’s “country house,” i.e., old farmhouse.  Who needed drugs?

Well, my bubbliness is long gone, but my light reading is a little more traditional.   We all love mysteries and Maeve Binchy, of course, but here are some other favorites.  And I’ll bet you’ve read some or all of them!

1.  EVERYONE LOVES E. F. BENSON’S LUCIA SERIES: 

  • Queen Lucia (1920)
  • Miss Mapp (1922)
  • Lucia in London (1927)
  • Mapp and Lucia (1931)
  • Lucia’s Progress (1935) (published in the U.S. as The Worshipful Lucia)
  • Trouble for Lucia (1939)

 In this satiric series of six novels, the outrageous Lucia dominates a quaint English village (first Riseholme, later Tilling).  She is determined to be the trendiest hostess, whether it means stealing Daisy Quantock’s yoga guru or feigning a knowledge of Italian.  She has rivals, the most famous being Miss Mapp of Tilling.  The books are peopled with quirky characters, including her charming  sidekick, Georgie, with whom she plots social coups and plays the first movement of Chopin’s Moonlight Sonata,

2.  DIARIES.  Whether you prefer a fictional diary such as Gogol’s Diary of a Madman or the diary of a great writer (I am reading Virginia Woolf’s),  you will be privy to secrets and prurient details. And did you know Everyman’s Library just published a new edition of The Diary of Samuel Pepys?

3.  DOROTHY SAYERS’S LORD PETER WIMSEY MYSTERIES.  I adore this series of Golden Age detective novels, and Sayers’s charming, foppish amateur sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey.  In one of my favorites, Have His Carcase, Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, takes a walking tour to escape everyday life–especially Peter’s frequent proposals of marriage.  But she finds a dead body on the beach–wouldn’t you know?–and by the time she gets to a phone, the body has washed out to sea.  How do you investigate a murder without a body? She and Peter Wimsey join forces.

4. Any adventure story by H. RIDER HAGGARD.  His sensational adventure novels are perfect for a rainy day.  In one of my favorites, She,  a Cambridge professor  and his ward  travel to Eastern Africa to investigate the mystery of an ancient pottery shard. They encounter a primitive tribe who pays obeissance to a mysterious white queen, known as She Who Must Be Obeyed. How it fits together I don’t remember!

5. Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love.  This is my favorite novel by Pym.  I love this whimsical quote from the book: “There are various ways of mending a broken heart, but perhaps going to a learned conference is one of the more unusual.”  We’ve all been there, haven’t we? At least to a writers’ conference…  Dulcie Mainwaring, a whimsical indexer, and snobbish Viola Dace both have crushes on Aylwin Forbes, the editor of a literary journal.  He speaks at the conference on “Some problems of an indexer.”  Really, what could be funnier?  And Dulcie is very good at doing “research” on Aylwin.  Eventually the two women become roommates.

I’m  interested in light reading in the dark autumn, so do recommend some favorites.