How to Read in Tune with the Season: It’s February and time for Beowulf, Bovary, the Bacchae and pathos

Darling, reading (eyes passing over written words) is not enough – getting into a comfortable chair and ignoring the housework is the easy part, the hard part is that one must read in the correct season.

It’s February and time for the bracing works: Beowulf, the depressing Shakespeares [Hamlet, Lear and Othello], all the Russians [especially Anna Karenina], Madame Bovary, “Paul’s Case.” Euripides and Sophocles. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Milton.

In March we are still depressed but can handle a modicum of humor. English baroque dramas. Iliad, Odyssey, Medea and Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms. Cavafy. Alice Walker and the Brontes. Chinua Achebe.

In April, we are starting to perk up again and can handle our misery with a dash of humor: it’s a good month for continental Europeans like Faust, Cervantes, Dante, and Montaigne. Patrick O’Brian and C. S. Forester. Isabel Allende.

When it’s May, you need old-fashioned with a bit of heft. Hence, off we hie to Jane Austen, Sarah Orne Jewett, Wilkie Collins and Daphne Du Maurier. Robertson Davies. George McDonald Fraser.

In June, read fairy tales and silly romances, don’t fight the lovely weather – don’t fight the feeling. There is enough time later to be miserable; pick James Hamilton-Paterson’s Rancid Pansies, Beverley Nichols, Susan Isaacs, Ludwig Bemelmans, Jennifer Cruise, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Carl Hiaasen and Oscar Wilde.

In July and August, it is absolutely necessary to choose one author and spend a week or two going through everything. WALLOW! Dick Francis, Ruth Galloway, Mary Stewart, Stephen Hunter, Simone St. James, Dennis Lehane, Qiu Xiaolong and Robert Crais.

And then it’s September and we must be serious again.

(painting by Charles Robinson)

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