A Reading Journal of the Plague Year (Mike)


Here is the fourth entry in the occasional series of book’ish posts that I’ve outsourced to a few old friends: A Reading Journal of the Plague Year. Well, considering this is the third entry in as many weeks it’s at risk of becoming a regular series. I hope you’ve all read the third entry—Aparna’s piece on reading Agatha Christie while on lockdown in Delhi; the second entry—Mahmud’s review of Clancy Sigal’s early 1960s road novel, Going Away; and the first—Peter’s recap of a few false starts and then a few things he’s enjoyed getting into since all of this began.

This week’s entry is from my deplorable friend, Mike. Like Peter, Mike also posted a piece earlier this year on some of his favourite reads of 2019. Mike is one of the most voracious and wide-ranging readers I know, someone who pays no heed to the usual fences of genre that hierarchically divide the literary landscape. He is also one of the most generous readers I know, attuned always to the pleasures of reading. I expect that if you haven’t already read all the books he talks about below, he’ll have you ordering at least one of them. Continue reading

A Reading Journal of the Plague Year (Aparna)

A month goes by between the first two entries in A Reading Journal of the Plague Year and then two come at once. If you haven’t read those first two entries you should do so right after you read this one: the first by Peter Stokes and the second by Mahmud Rahman. This third entry is by another old friend, Aparna Balachandran. I first met Aparna on an Indian culture forum I used to run a long time ago. She was then finishing up her PhD in Indian history in New York. I can’t remember if we ever met in person while she was in the US. But we’ve been meeting and hanging out on all our trips to India ever since she went back to start teaching at Delhi University. A number of my meal reports from Delhi over the years have been of meals in her company—and it’s very good company indeed. We are also in a small WhatsApp group together. For the last two months our primary topics of conversation, like everyone else’s, have been the pandemic and our coping strategies. Aparna kept talking about the books she was reading and so I began working on her to make a contribution to this occasional series. After giving a lot of what in Delhi University we call “pricey ones” she finally agreed—though she refused to make public the genre that is her true primary reading and threatened me with violence if I disclosed it. Instead she said she would write a piece on Agatha Christie. Continue reading

A Reading Journal of the Plague Year (Mahmud)


Here is the second entry in the occasional series I’m running on the blog called A Reading Journal of the Plague Year. (See here for the first, by my friend Pete whose title I appropriated for the series; and see here for my other occasional series on poems about food and drink.)

Today’s entry is by another old friend, the Bangladeshi writer, translator and all-around cool person, Mahmud Rahman. I’ve known Mahmud online since the mid-90s and have hung out with him a few times, in Colorado and in Minnesota, while he was on cross-country drives; and I’ve separately hosted him at my college where he gave a wonderful reading from his collection, Killing the Water (available from Penguin India). He has also translated Mahmudul Haque’s novel Black Ice from Bengali, and is currently putting the finishing touches on his own novel. I have been waiting a long time to read this novel and am hoping it won’t be too much longer before I’ll have it in my hands. Those who know Mahmud know of his long history of driving across the United States—he’s mostly lived here since the early 1970s—and it’s no surprise then that he’s chosen to write about a road book, Clancy Sigal’s Going Away (helpfully out of print but available from libraries and Alibris). Continue reading

A Reading Journal of the Plague Year (Pete)


I recently promised that I’d be starting a series of posts on poems about food and drink and that the first entry would be coming soon. It has not yet arrived. But I bring to you instead the first installment in another book-ish series: A Reading Journal of the Plague Year. I had not thought to give it that title but quickly stole it from the author of this first installment, my old friend, Peter. You may remember him from such previous guest posts as “2019: A Year in Books (Pete)” and…well, that’s the lazy bastard’s only previous contribution. I asked Pete and the rest of the crew that had contributed to that series earlier in the year if they’d be interested in writing a bit about what they’re reading in isolation/quarantine. Not all were into it but I have roped in a new contributor (maybe two) and this time around I might get around to writing an entry myself. One a week probably until I run out of contributions. Here, to start with, is Pete. Continue reading