A show like Downton Abbey can be a struggle for bookworms like me. While intense drama and important character moments are being thrown down in the Downton Abbey library, all I can see are the shelves upon shelves of books. There are a lot of reasons to hang out in a library, of course, but when you have a personal, floor-to-ceiling literary treasure trove like the Granthams do, one of those reasons should be to, you know, actually read a book here and there.
But as someone with an entire bookcase devoted to her TBR, I get how it can be too intimidating to even pull a book off the shelf sometimes. In between the year's major reading challenges and books borrowed from friends forever ago that you really should get to, plus all those shiny new titles being released, there's just too much to pick from. So then you give up trying to find the perfect book and go back to blackmailing one of the other servants or having scandalous trysts while company is over.
However, if there were ever people who needed to fling themselves onto their chaise lounges, good books in hand, it's the residents of Downton Abbey. When everything's going wrong, the right book at the right time might be the only relief. (And a lot goes wrong in the world of Downton Abbey.)
So it's time for a reading intervention. Here are personalized book recommendations for some of the folks who call Downton home.
Lady Mary Crawley
The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
Mary knows where she stands in the Crawley sister line-up: right on top. Sybil went off and married the chauffeur while Edith is, well... Edith, so it's up to Mary to maintain Downton Abbey's good name. OK, perhaps Mary could gain a little sympathy for her sisters, and Junichiro Tanizaki's tale of four aristocratic sisters living in 1940s Japan just might do the trick. In the novel, the sisters band together to find a husband for their sister, Yukiko. If they don't, their whole family line and way of life is going to come crumbling down. (Come on, Mary. Toss Edith a bone and introduce her to a hot duke or something.)
Lady Edith Crawley
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
This is my official reading prescription for Edith: awesome lady protagonists. The middle Crawley sister can be insecure at the best of times, and reading a book like Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns would do her wonders. Edith would relate to the chosen-one narrator, Elisa, who is underestimated by everyone, including herself. However, after she's kidnapped, forced to survive in the desert and later save her kingdom, she finds the inner strength she never knew she had.
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel pair, Boxers and Saints, has everything Tom Branson would like in a book: rebellion, nationalism, and showing the same situation from two opposite viewpoints. Branson went from Crawley family chauffeur to ostracized in-law to upstanding member of the family in just a few seasons. And while he doesn't share his socialist views as often now that he has a regular spot at the upstairs dinner table (who'd want to give that up?), he's still torn between his Irish upstart side and his Crawley-approved side.
Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Lord Grantham likes British stuff, and Roald Dahl's books come with a very strong British flavor. Ergo, the perfect match! While Lord Grantham may not dig Dahl's zanier work, like The BFG or The Magic Finger, I think Dahl's story of a father and son pulling off the greatest peasant-poaching plot ever concocted would appeal to him. Er, once he got past the "stick it to The Man" aspect of the book.
Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Oh, Daisy. She wants more out of life than just slaving over a hot stove in Mrs. Patmore's kitchen, but doesn't quite know how to go about it. Restauranteur Katie, the protagonist in Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel, Seconds, is in a similar conundrum the day she finds a magical mushroom that lets her erase her past mistakes. Of course, the more she tries to fix things, the worse things get. (Daisy could have really used this read way back when she was running around marrying footmen and wishing she could take it all back.)
The Big Con by David W. Maurer
With his constant scheming, Thomas the dastardly footman likes to think he's a proper villain, but reading David W. Maurer's study of swindlers and confidence men would show Thomas just how wrong he is. Would this book give him some really bad ideas? Uh, yeah. Most definitely. But maybe this time he can figure out how to do villainy right and step it up.
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
The justice system isn't always black and white, as both Mr. Bates and Piper Kerman will probably tell you. Bates has spent a decent portion of his time tangling with the law, usually while trying to do the right thing. Piper Kerman's memoir, Orange is the New Black, which recounts her own time behind bars might remind Bates that it's pointless to nobly suffer when the system itself is so whack. Just sayin'.
Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for the Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
Cousin Violet sure does love manners. And polite conversation at dinner. And social rank and class. She'll tell you a lack of those things is exactly why young people are so dreadful these days. But to prove her wrong, I would shove Popular into her hands (presumably while she grumped about telephones). Maya Van Wagenen spent her entire eighth grade year following a 1950s popularity guide. Now that's a hardcore dedication to the past that even Cousin Violet could respect.
Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
Cora is surrounded by Brits all day, every day. And while being in English accent heaven 24/7 is probably the best thing ever, I'm sure there are times where Cora wishes she wasn't the only American in the house. What better way to feel a little less alone than to read a book where the main character faces the same problems as you? Daisy Goodwin's The American Heiress is, as you maybe guessed, all about an American heiress marrying into English aristocracy. She gets a title, her husband gets her family's money. Even more eerie? She's named Cora, too.
Isis the dog
The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith
For such a long-lived Labrador, Isis probably isn't very well read. (There, I said it.) But if Lord Grantham's faithful dog could take advantage of her family's massive library, I would recommend Dodie Smith's sequel to 101 Dalmations. It's every dog's dream come true: all the humans fall into an enchanted sleep and dogs rule the world. All hail Queen Isis!