Unmask Thyself! & A Summer Reading Project


The CDC has issued an Unmask Thyself mandate. We the Vaccinated are encouraged to go wherever we want, indoors and outdoors, without masks. We are relieved to have “vaccine privileges,” and hope this summer will be less confrontational than last. But the truth is we’re a little confused: we don’t feel entirely comfortable without masks in stores. And we LOVE social distancing – the perfect excuse for rudeness. But perhaps more people will get vaccinated when they see there is a reason for it: freedom.

And should we decide to attend a superspreader oldies concert featuring The Turtles, the Association, the Cowsills, Mark Lindsay, Chuck Negron, and The Vogues, we need not worry about “unvaccinated spit” mingling with ours and contaminating us. That will be their problem!

SUMMER IS COMING UP FAST. What is your summer reading project? Of course you’re doing the 20 Books of Summer! I am doing the Two Books of Summer.

Last year it was Dumas’s The Vicomte of Bragelonne, one of the d’Artagnan Romances, which I moderately enjoyed before losing the book. Well, I found it again, and since one plot element does not necessarily lead to the next in this rambling historical novel, I shall happily start on the bookmarked page, 300something. The Oxford edition has a detailed historical character list and excellent notes. I rely on it for background.

I also intend to pick up Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil for the fifth or sixth time. Is it actually a classic? It certainly isn’t “pop.” Virgil is sick and dying, he arrives at Brundisium and is carried on a litter through the city, and he ogles a boy. That is the first hundred pages. For four or five summers, I tried again and quit again on page 100. This year I have decided to start on page 100. My husband is keeping The Death of Virgil on a special shelf, so I will not have the “opportunity” to lose the book. Perhaps one hundred pages a summer?

Tell me your summer plans. I’m begging you! The 20 Books of Summer – and what else?

Sometimes There’s a Reason: Dropping Dumas & Enchanted by Lord Berners

No, I have too many books!

Every year, my favorite bloggers pipe up: “We plan to read more books from our own shelves.” What an enticing idea! I have a LOT of dusty books, on a LOT of shelves, and I’d love to get rid of the bookcases in the dining room, where the incongruous shelving of the Brownings beside Lilian Jackson Braun lowers the level of conversation.

My better-organized fellows have a certain je ne sais quoi. They emanate a charming positivity, a Pollyanna-ish spirit that can guide them through the slog of Dumas and the unvarying cleverness of Georgette Heyer. They have spreadsheets. It is humbling. But who knows? Perhaps they, too, have bookcases in the dining room.

Mind you, I recently lost my Dumas book after enjoying 300 pages of it. And I’ve forgotten the title! Well, in my defense, the title was French. Easy French, but French. La Sanfelice, or The Vicomte de Bragelonne, I think. Perhaps I could open ANY Dumas book at page 300 and enjoy it.

Oh, well, the Dumas book did make it off the shelf.

I had better luck with Lord Berners’s Collected Tales and Fantasies. I stared at it gloomily, and thought, Well, let’s try it. And I was enchanted by this strange collection of macabre, witty tales and novellas. Lord Berners (1883-1950) was known for eccentricity as a writer, composer, and painter. He moved in the set of the Sitwells. He also knew Nancy Mitford, who based her character Lord Merlin on him.

Two of the stories in this collection feature animals with special powers. In his charming novella, The Camel, a camel rings the doorbell at the vicarage one snowy day. The Reverend is terrified, but his wife Antonia leads the camel to the barn: she rode camels when she was a missionary in the East. And soon she and the camel have a special bond, as she rides him around the village, where he does not cause as much chaos as you might think, except for one man’s worry that he is hallucinating. The camel is so fond of Antonia that every time she makes a wish, he grants it. She wishes she had a mink coat like a posh neighbor’s, and it shows up at the vicarage. Yes, the camel steals for her! Everyone is quite puzzled.

In “Mister Pidger,” Millicent Denham surreptitiously brings her lapdog Mister Pidger on a visit to Uncle Wilfred Davenant. Uncle Wilfrid has disinherited one couple who brought a dog to the house, so Millicent’s husband Walter rightly worries they will be disinherited because of Mister Pidger. Millicent plans to hide Mister Pidger in her bedroom, but anyway who wouldn’t adore this charming lapdog? I won’t give away the plot, but you will wonder: IS Mister Pidger psychic?

All the stories are imaginative and very strange: in “The Romance of a Nose,” Cleopatra has plastic surgery. In “Percy Wallingford,” the perfect man’s perfect life abruptly falls apart; are the causes supernatural?

I am not at all sure the genre here is fantasy, but I suppose “fantasies” is accurate.