An Early Novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: “The Nature of Passion”

I Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

I would love to travel to India. It is so exotic, so faraway, so impossible to visit during the pandemic, and when it was possible I had no interest.

Perhaps I would prefer the literary India anyway. I have been enjoying the books of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who won the Booker Prize for her 1975 novel Heat and Dust. I still have my original copy, which has a Booker Prize sticker on the cover and an exquisite, charming illustration by her husband Cyril Jhabvala on the endpapers. If ever a book should be bought for the cover…!

I wonder, Where did I learn about Jhabvala? I may have been impressed by the English literary prize sticker. But the most likely source would have been The Chicago Tribune, which had an excellent book review section then. I also loved The New York Times, but it took three days to reach my hometown.

The cover illustration is by Cyrus Jhabvala, Ruth’s husband

Over the years, I have eagerly read Jhabvala’s fiction. And guess what? I recently discovered some early novels I’d missed out on. I just finished The Nature of Passion, published in 1956. Her early books are different: they focus on Indian characters, while her later books focus on the culture clash between the East and West.

There is a family culture clash in The Nature of Passion: Lalaji, a rich, successful contractor, loves family life and indulges his children. But education has been the impetus of the rebellion of his youngest son, Viddi, and his daughter, Nimmi: both want to go to a university in England. Viddi wants to be a writer and loathes the idea of business; Nimmi scoffs at arranged marriages and wants to find romance of her own in England. But Lalaji is not sure he wants another westernized son and daughter. His second son, Chandra Prakash, is an alumnus of an English university, and refused to work for his father, but ironically he needs money from his father to keep up his life-style.

In the first chapter, Jhabvala begins to delineate the differences between the past culture and present way of life.

Lalaji himself was the only one in the house to sleep outdoors. In the mornings it was almost chilly and he had to cover himself up with a sheet, but he preferred to wake up to sky and hedge and crows than to the loneliness of his expensive bedroom. He did not like his bedroom. Nor did his wife with whom he shared it. It seemed wrong that just the two of them should sleep there, no children, no babies, no relatives come to stay, only pieces of strange and unnecessary furniture.

Lalaji is lovable but a bit of a crook: he and his lawyer are trying to prevent the newspaper from unearthing his role in a business scandal. But somehow we lare fascinated by Lalaji and the family intrigues. The drama includes a comical feud between Lalaji’s wife and the mother of her daughter-in-law; Nimmi’s illicit dates with a young man she meets at a friend’s tennis club; Viddy’s whiling away his time at a bar where other artistic types try to wheedle money out of him; and Chandra’s nagging wife’s determination to sever ties with Lalaji and make their children speak English.

Jhabvala subtly illustrates the effect of Western culture on India, whether for good or bad, in this comedy of Indian life. A great pleasure to read. She was such a great writer, and we miss her!

National Poetry Month: More Emily Dickinson

I am spending much of my leisure with Emily Dickinson this month. I am a constant reader of Latin poetry, but when I get into the American or English poetry-reading mood, I become obsessed with a single author. I enjoy Emily’s company exceedingly, and lines of her poetry pop into my mind at the oddest moments. What does she mean by this exactly, I wonder while staring at the broccoli at the grocery store. Quite often the line is about a bee. Emily is so bright, arcane, and witty that she sometimes stings–like one of her famous bees!

Here are two of Dickinson’s poems about fame, one of them with her favorite insect–a bee!

Fame is a bee.

Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.

Fame is a fickle food.

Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate
Whose table once a
Guest but not
The second time is set
Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the
Farmer’s corn
Men eat of it and die

.

Tom Tulliver’s Latin: Can Maggie Save the Day?

“George Eliot is the greatest novelist of the nineteenth century, and Middlemarch THE greatest novel of the 19th century.” So said an intense but lazy English professor given to sweeping generalizations and assignments to write a “journal” instead of essays. Yes, yes–I had read all of Eliot’s novels–but I could not agree with her about Middlemarch. Much as I love Eliot’s strong-willed heroine Dorothea Brooke and pity her disastrous marriage to the dim-witted scholar, Mr. Casaubon, I am uninterested in the other characters–I’m sorry, but Middlemarch is a dull town!

No, I much prefer The Mill on the Floss, a double bildungsroman that follows the fortunes of siblings Tom and Maggie Tulliver. Of the two, Maggie is the more appealing, a quick-witted girl who adores her very average older brother, enjoys boys’ games, reads widely, and has, according to her mother, deplorable “brown” skin and tangled hair. When she is scolded for lack of femininity, Maggie retires to the attic and punishes her “fetish,” a wooden doll, by driving nails into its head. Tom, of course, is allowed to be unruly, and his antics, however muddy, are tacitly approved as masculine.

But perhaps Tom suffers even more than Maggie, due to–yes–the study of Latin! He is sent away to be educated privately by a curate, who imparts only two subjects, Latin and geometry. Poor Tom! The more mistakes he makes, the more Latin lines he is given.

When Maggie visits Tom for a few weeks, her curiosity helps him with Latin. Not that she has a chance to learn it, mind you, because Mr. Stelling informs the siblings, much to Maggie’s humiliation, that women only have a “superficial” intelligence. Still, she asks so many questions that Tom makes an important discovery.

…she had asked Mr Stelling so many questions about the Roman empire, and whether there really ever was a man who said, in Latin, “I would not buy it for a farthing or a rotten nut,” or whether that had only been turned into Latin, that Tom had actually come to a dim understanding of the fact that there had once been people upon the earth who were so fortunate as to know Latin without learning it through the medium of the Eton Grammar.

I would probably love the Eton Grammar: I learned Latin out of a similar book! But Eliot preaches against a classical education that befuddles or fails to inspire average students like Tom, or perhaps I should say students who do not care for languages. Maggie would have benefited from Tom’s education, and Tom from something more practical. Eliot’s attitudes were certainly progressive: she was a linguist herself (and a Latinist), but opposed the idea that a classical education was appropriate for every student.

Tom is not the only confused Latin student. Years ago, an English teacher informed me that one of my best students had referred to the Aeneid as a play.

“Close enough,” I said cheerfully.

The student was an excellent translator and could sight-read–and that was good enough for me! I had told them it was an epic, but there is much dialogue, so I understood her confusion (they were not reading epics in English class). I did mention the word “epic” several times in the next few weeks, hoping that the students would absorb it.

National Poetry Month: Two by Emily Dickinson

Happy National Poetry Month! Pop off the cork and enjoy the metaphorical champagne. Here are two of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson. More to come.

It’s all I have to bring today – (26)

It’s all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — (1263)

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —



Pop Fiction in the Twenty-First Century

You probably imagine that my home library burgeons with dusty classics and is overrun by cats and dogs. And you would not be completely wrong. The shelves are full of Victorian novels and Latin poetry. Yet I am also a fan of pop culture, and have resolved this year to read more pop fiction.

In many ways we feel more distant from the culture (what is left of it) during the pandemic, even though we have Zoom and live-streaming. And so I want to know, What do people read for fun, or more important, What is pushed on them?

After consulting national book club selections, I picked three titles, the first published in 2019, the other two in 2020. Two are fantasy novels and one is a best-seller that doubles as literary fiction. Oddly, it was the pop literary novel I didn’t finish!

Are these books worth reading? Yes, in different ways.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, a Barnes and Noble Book Club pick. The popular Y.A. writer Leigh Bardugo’s first adult novel is a page-turner. The heroine, Alex Stern, a lost-soul drop-out and drug user in L.A., is the sole survivor of a multiple homicide. She wakes up in the hospital, with a very dubious future: she is a suspect in the crime. And then Yale recruits her because of her ability to see ghosts (a long, complicated story). Her main job is to join Lethe, one of the magical secret societies at Yale, and monitor it for the Dean so the magic will not spill over and contaminate New Haven. She is, needless to say, trapped in the Ivy League and resentful of the rich students: she is also unprepared academically, and because of her Lethe activities, has little time for homework. This smart, deftly-written novel is character-driven, with sharp, witty dialogue. You will empathize with Alex, who makes a niche for herself at Yale, but not without enduring tragedy and loss.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, a Good Morning America Book Club pick. This is an enjoyable middlebrow read, driven by, of all things, philosophy and quantum physics. The down-and-out heroine, Nora Seed, takes an overdose, but somewhere between life and death wakes up in the Midnight Library, presided over by Miss Elm, her elementary school librarian. Every book in the library contains an alternate life for Nora, and she is supposed to find one that suits her. As she samples many lives, we become afraid for her. The problem with the book? Haig’s simple style is adequate, but a bit dull. Nonetheless, the idea for this self-help book in the form of a novel is intriguing.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. A Barnes & Noble Book Club pick and a Readers’ Digest Book Club pick. Donoghue is a powerful writer, but this slight novel, set in Dublin in 1919 in a maternity ward during the Spanish flu pandemic, is disappointing. I admit, I picked it up to read about the flu epidemic, and had no idea it was set in a maternity ward for patients with influenza. Even the intelligent observations of Julia Power, a nurse and midwife at work under trying, unsanitary conditions, could not get me into the book. Alas, like Prissy in Gone with the Wind, “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” I didn’t finish this.

Have you read any good pop fiction lately? What do you recommend? And if you’re a snob about pop fiction, let me know, because I’ve been there. I’m trying to find my balance in the culture.

Tangled up in Headphones, Longer Days, and Literary Links

I love Daylight Saving Time. I metamorphose from a hibernating mammal into an exuberant human being. Changing the clocks (spring forward!) is a hallmark of spring. The worshippers of rosy-fingered dawn lament losing an hour but we see light overcoming darkness. Some states do not, or at least used not, to observe Daylight Saving Time: they were on “God’s time” all year round. But when twilight steals the sun at five o’clock, I histrionically mutter, “I wish I were dead,” and go to bed at eight. As long as I use the subjunctive of to be (were), I am fine. But if I mutter, “I wish I was dead” (the indicative), please ply me with healing subjunctive exercises.

Collection of vintage clock hanging on an old brick wall; Shutterstock

ARE YOU VACCINATED? According to the Atlantic, the U.S. is in good shape with the vaccination rollout, and the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are effective against the new strains. So let us hope we get on top of the fourth wave soon (though isn’t it really just one big wave?). Yes, I have been vaccinated, and I feel more secure. There’s a long way to go, though, with so many, many new cases every day.

MY NO. 1 PROBLEM WITH MASKS: The mask earloops recently got tangled up in my headphones. A delicate disentangling operation had to be performed single-handed in a store.

And now here are three Literary Links.

  1. I recommend Gal Beckerman’s interview with Paul Theroux, “Would the Pandemic Stop Paul Theroux From Traveling?”, in The New York Times Magazine. His new novel, Under the Wave at Waimea, will be published in April.

And here is a short passage from the article:

For six days, Paul Theroux, the famous American travel writer, dined on hard-boiled eggs, microwaved dal and wine.

He had set out cross-country in a rented Jeep Compass on the day before Thanksgiving, driving from Cape Cod, where he has a house, to Los Angeles, where he delivered boxes of his papers to his archives at Huntington Library, and then flying on to Hawaii, his other home.

Theroux said he observed a landscape largely emptied out by the coronavirus pandemic, from deserted motels in Sallisaw, Okla., and Tucumcari, N.M., where he stopped to sleep, to a rest area in Tennessee where he had his solitary Thanksgiving meal, and the In-N-Out Burger in Kingman, Ariz., on his last day on the road. Every night, as is his habit, he wrote out in longhand all he had seen.

2 At Tor, Melissa Baharddoust, author of Girl, Serpent, Storm, writes about “Persian Legends and Their Western Counterparts.” Here is a short passage:

While poring over Persian myths and legends for my novel, Girl, Serpent, Thorn, I was always delightfully surprised whenever I came across a story that sounded familiar to me from my western upbringing. While I don’t have the expertise to speak to exactly how these stories found their way from one culture to another, or whether any of these stories were directly influenced by each other, I hope you’ll join me in marveling at the way some stories speak to and create common threads in all of us.

3 At The Guardian, Sam Byers explores the post-pandemic future in “We will have to choose our apocalypse: the cost of freedom after the pandemic.”

Here is a passage from the essay:

On one thing, at least, we were all in agreement: we wanted to be free. The problem was that we couldn’t agree on what that freedom looked like, or who should enjoy it. Even as new horizons of collective action and mutual support seemed possible, the urge to do whatever we wanted, free from the inconvenience of consequences, took hold with renewed force. Set against the freedom from infection was the freedom to endanger others by leaving lockdown; the freedom to do away with masks and sow airborne death in the supermarket; the right, via “unmuzzled” speech across high-profile platforms, to spread dangerous, divisive fictions. When finally the halls of US government were stormed and occupied, it wasn’t civil rights activists or eco-warriors posing for a selfie in the chamber, it was a loose conglomeration of angry and often baffled conspiracy theorists, splinter Republicans and Nazis, freely subverting the democracy they claimed to defend.

Keep well and Happy Reading!

Nowhere Woman: Self-Expression in the 21st Century

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the late 1960’s, my bourgeois family was killing me. While I lounged on the couch and read Charlotte Bronte, J. D. Salinger, and D. H. Lawrence, they sat in the finished basement watching Mission Impossible and The Big Valley. While I learned to read Tarot cards, they played cards. And there were the usual arguments about clothes: I hid my army jacket with the embroidered peace sign in the garage, because my mother thought it too tacky to wear to school.

I was critical of the educational system. I begged Mom to send me to Summerhill, a progressive school in England, but it was not going to happen when there were perfectly good public schools in town. At school I passed the days writing a journal and scribbling quotes from poetry and rock song lyrics. One day a music teacher busted me for not paying attention, and read aloud what I’d written about the meaninglessness of school. I was a hero for a day–a popular boy told me he admired my writing–but I was still humiliated. Once home I slammed into my room, cried a little, and picked up one of my comfort books, probably I Capture the Castle or Joan North’s The Whirling Shapes. And I looked for inspiration from a poster with a quote from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata: “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

There was a lot of noise and haste to filter out in those days. Poetry and rock songs helped. There was Emily Dickinson: “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” There was Charlotte Bronte: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Perhaps Edna St. Vincent Millay was my favorite:

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!

Rock music was the glue that held my generation together. I adored the Beatles and was devastated when they broke up. I remember how excited I was the first time I heard “Hey Jude.” I would half-listen to the radio for hours just to hear that song. My favorite Beatles album, Rubber Soul, was frequently on the turntable. I loved “Nowhere Man,” though I was never, never, never, never going to be a “Nowhere Woman.”

Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don’t know what you’re missing
Nowhere man, The world is at your command
Ah, la, la, la, la

I have begun to feel rather like Nowhere Woman, though. It has been a monotonous year of wearing masks, and I admit I don’t recognize my friends and acquaintances in their masks. I also seem unconsciously to have depended on lip-reading in conversation. Now I hear, “MUMBLE MUMBLE MUMBLE MUMBLE.” And that’s what they hear from me, too.

As for self-expression, we can’t see each other’s faces. This is a small complaint, but it’s time to get out the Emily Dickinson and the Beatles.

Infinite Variations on Reimagined Myths

A quirky, neglected novel

I hadn’t supposed that mythological creatures lounged about discoursing in dactylic hexameter all day. Nevertheless, numerous reconcilements were required between what I had imagined a deity, even a modern one, to be and what the flesh-and-blood deity in fact was. But even with willing and alert adjustments, there were moments of incredulous silence on my side. – Mrs. Demming and the Mythical Beast by Faith Sullivan

There’s something about a reimagined myth.

Readers love myths, and the retold or reimagined myth has been a popular genre for thousands of years. Even in the twenty-first century, when presumably fewer readers study classical mythology, the fascination remains. Madeline Miller’s best-selling novel, Circe, has been adapted as an HBO series (not yet released). In David Malouf’s short, perfect novel, Ransom, he reimagines scenes from the Iliad, focusing on Priam’s attempt to ransom the body of his son Hector from the implacable warrior Achilles. In 1999, Canongate commissioned a series of retold myths by Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, and other renowned writers. The first three books in the series were published in 2005.

Why are myths so popular? We are fascinated by the volatile antics of the gods and goddesses and the struggles of heroes (half divine, half human) unfortunate enough to attract their attention. Myths help us understand human dilemmas. They showcase the implacability and arbitrariness of fate. We pore over Greek tragedies, horrified by mistakes sometimes caused by unwitting hubris, but more often apparently by nothing, which end in disaster. In the Iliad and the Aeneid, we mourn the deaths of young soldiers, most of whom are farmers.

I prefer some retold myths to others. Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses is, naturally, the best. I stopped reading Madeline Millers’ Circe after an abortive attempt to listen to the audiobook, but perhaps I’d do better with the actual book.

And yet many worthy retold myths that were not best-sellers or well-publicized are worth reviving. Take a look at these four you may not have heard of. One might be right for you.

The dreadful cover of this mass-market paperback has nothing at all to do with the novel!

Mrs. Demming and the Mythical Beast by Faith Sullivan. No one has read this book since it was published in 1985, except me, I swear. It is forgotten, neglected, wacky, hard to categorize, and the cover of my mass-market paperbook is not a good sell. In this witty novel, set during a magical summer in Belle Riviere, Minnesota, the heroine, Larissa, an amateur artist, participates in an ecology campaign to fight the development of condos on the riverbank. She also has an affair with the god Pan, who, it turns out, has been stuck in Minnesota for most of the century. (P.S. I just learned this fun read is available from Kindle, so it IS more or less in print.)

Homer’s Daughter by Robert Graves. In this neglected feminist masterpiece, the author of the Odyssey is not Homer, but Nausicaa, the intellectual princess and rescuer of the shipwrecked Odysseus in Book VI of The Odyssey.  I loved this novel: in fact, I’m due for a reread. Your may already be acquainted with Graves’s The Greek Myths, or his famous novel I, Claudius.

The Penelopeia:  A Novel in Verse by Jane Rawlings.  Published in 2003, this is a sequel to Homer’s Odyssey, written from Penelope’s point of view. It is not a masterpiece, but the free verse flows and is easy to read. The plot does not center of Odysseus: when he returns from the war after 20 years, Penelope reveals that she gave birth to twin daughters after his departure and hid them at her father-in-law’s house to keep them safe from enemies.  Both Odysseus and their son Telemachus feel betrayed by this revelation. Much ado…

Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle. I very much enjoyed this novella, a retelling of the Persephone myth, set in Seattle and Puget Sound. Due to a divine quarrel between Persephone and Hades, Persephone hides out in Seattle, working as a waitress who calls herself Lioness. During a summer that continues into fall because Persephone is not underground, Hades and Demeter search for her, but the real focus is on the human protagonists. Abe, a retired history professor and a blues fan, rents his garage to Persephone/Lioness;  and his longtime lover, Joanna, a fiftysomething flight attendant, is is not only sick of flying but worries about her lesbian daughter Lily’s crush on Persephone. This sweet novella is a myth about climate change.

What are your favorite retold or reimagined myths? There are so many to choose from!

My Favorite Booker Prize Winner: “Heat and Dust” by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala won the Booker Prize for Heat and Dust in 1975, a long-ago year when elegant economy was preferred to the purple prose of baggy monsters. At a succinct 181 pages, Heat and Dust is a colorful small canvas as much as a novel. And her pitch-perfective simplicity strikes a chord that the brilliant Hilary Mantel, Peter Carey, and Lucy Ellmann cannot reach in their long, complex, beautifully-written Booker winners. (Please bring back the short novels!)

On a third reading of Heat and Dust, I am still enchanted by the seamless interweaving of two stories of Englishwomen in India. One story is set in 1923, the other in the early ’70s (Jhabvala’s then-present). The nameless narrator, a young woman captivated by the letters of her great-aunt Olivia, has come to India to research Olivia’s history. Her pretty great-aunt had followed her husband Douglas, a high-level civil servant, to India of the Raj, but she was soon bored by solitary days and the tedious social life with Douglas’s middle-aged English friends. She embarks on an unlikely friendship with the handsome, charming Nawab, the prince of the region. After she leaves Douglas to live with the Nawab, the letters home dwindle and none of her relatives see her again. The narrator wants to know what happened.

The narrator tells her own story of India in vivid journal entries, describing English and American tourists who became disillusioned on a quest for spirituality, and her close friendship with an Indian family, especially Inder Lal, a government officer and her landlord. He is trapped in traditional family life and an arranged marriage to a sad woman who has seizures. After various sight-seeing trips together, the narrator and Inder Lal become lovers, who laugh and confide everything to each other in the dark. There are parallels between the narrator and Olivia: both fall in love with India and form bonds with Indian men. One is a prince, the other a civil servant, but their characters are shaped by the same culture.

How important is love? To Olivia, it was everything. She enjoyed her exotic adventures with the Nawab and their deep physical relationship. The experience is different for the quiet narrator, who values friendship more than romance. She is tall and flat-chested, and children chase her through the streets and call her hijra, a word for the eunuch dancers who look like men but dress like women and sing and dance. She ignores the the catcalls, figuring rightly that they will soon get used to her. Under the protection of Inder Lal’s mother, she makes friends with neighbors and women at the market.

But her goal is to retrace the footsteps of Olivia. She visits the building that was once Olivia’s house. She especially appreciates her visit to a famous shrine, where the childless women pray to get pregnant. It was the spot where Olivia went on a memorable picnic with the gracious Nawab.

The narrator does not expect anything of India: she simply wants to know the country and the life of her great-aunt. She is not nostalgic for England, and understands there is no magic in India: she is fascinated by the beauty and strangeness (and sometimes ugliness), and the relationship of the present to the past.

I would love to go to India, in the spirit of the narrator, but the heat and dust, the difficulties of travel, the tragic sights of beggars, the language problem (perhaps courses online) would be a challenge. After the pandemic, in the distant future, maybe a package tour. Who knows?

I understand that this is probably no longer Jhabvala’s India. Born in Belgium in 1927 and educated in England, she lived for many years in India with her husband, and moved to the U.S. in 1975. You may know her as the writer of many screenplays of Merchant-Ivory films, including Howards End, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

What is your favorite Booker Prize winner? I have discovered so many great writers that way, though, honestly, I have fallen behind in recent years. Time to catch up?

Why Is an Indian Sufi Master on My TBR? and Three Literary Links

I often surf the net and jot down titles of books I want to read. And then I look at the list and wonder why these particular books seemed so interesting.

Some books on the list do survive my next-day scrutiny. I yearn to read The Magic Doe by Qutban Suhravardi, translated by Aditya Behl. The book description says it is “an excellent introduction to Sufism and one of the true literary classics of pre-modern India.” I am mostly interested in the literary aspect of The Magic Doe: I am too practical for mysticism, and indeed I once started laughing during a lecture on Transcendental Meditation and had to leave. It seemed slightly cultish: some of my acquaintances moved to the lovely town of Fairfax, Iowa, home of Maharishi University. And I vaguely worried–some had donated money to the university–and I sometimes checked on them at social media to make sure they’re all right. (They always look radiant.) Like Kurt Vonnegut in his essay “Yes, We Have No Nirvana,” I am skeptical of TM, though I don’t doubt it has benefits for certain people.

And Now Three Literary Links

Something about Hester Prynne looks a little off!

  1. I am sure you will enjoy the following article: 50 Very Bad Covers for Literary Classics at Lit Hub. Emily Temple writes:

When a book passes into the public domain, it means not only that it’s available for adapting and remixing, but for reprinting and reselling with a brand new cover. Some of these covers are . . . pretty bad. Which, obviously, makes them very fun to look at.


I have collected a number of these very fun, very bad covers below. All of these covers are “real,” that is, attached to books that are at least nominally available for purchase, though many are digital covers for digital editions. You’ll find a number of covers from Wordsworth Classics, premier publisher of badly Photoshopped book covers, but many more from the wilds of digital independent publishing. Some are merely ugly; others make it clear that no one involved in the creation of the cover cracked open the book.

2. At The Guardian, I enjoyed the Top 10 Literary Matriarchs list compiled by A. K. Blakemore. I was pleased to see Livia from I, Claudius on the list. Now there’s a matriarch you couldn’t trust, if the rumors are true about the poisonings, etc,. but she was certainly powerful. To see her on the list shakes it up a bit!

Sian Phillips as Livia Drusilla in I, Claudius

3. Are you thinking about spring cleaning? The writer Helen Carefoot at The Washington Post says we are dealing l with enough pressure at home during the pandemic, and suggests we go easy on the deep cleaning.

She writes,

In a normal year, this might be the time to block out a weekend, pull up your sleeves, and lift a season’s worth of dust and grime off of every surface in your house. But with the emotional and financial tolls the pandemic has inflicted on so many, and with home having to function as a space for work, play and everything in between, it might be worth rethinking the mammoth spring-cleaning operation.

I agree!