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The Month Ahead: Books, Part 2

What to read, watch and listen to in January


Like the deeply repressed, scandal-prone family we never knew we had, the folks of “Downton Abbey” look to be welcomed with open arms when the hit British series returns to PBS on Jan. 6. Not surprisingly, U.S. publishers’ latest offerings seem to channel some favorite characters …

THE BOOK: Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide, which traces two centuries of life, love and loss in an English manor house. JAN. 8
REMINDS US OF: The Earl of Grantham, devoted custodian of Downton Abbey (“I claim no career beyond the nurture of this house and the estate,” he declares).
WHO’D PROBABLY RELATE TO: “The late morning sun brought out the honey color of the stonework, and the great house seemed to glow. Something about it tugged at her in a way she couldn’t put into words.”

THE BOOK: Habits of the House by Fay Weldon, in which a posh family facing financial ruin opts to marry off its feckless heir. JAN. 22
REMINDS US OF: Black-sheep blueblood Lady Mary, who spent the better part of two seasons living down the shame of a Turkish attaché dying unexpectedly in her bed.
WHO’D PROBABLY RELATE TO: “He had left Minnie. Flora was gone. He had slept in a bath. The police were after him. Heaven knew what would happen when he got home. But home he’d got, and in style.”

THE BOOK: Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants, a nonfiction guide to the “Downton” era by Alison Maloney. OUT NOW
REMINDS US OF: Downton’s straitlaced butler, Mr. Carson, who preaches that a servant who behaves with “pride and dignity reflects the pride and dignity of the family he serves.”
WHO’D PROBABLY RELATE TO: “‘Knowing your place’ was as important, if not more so, when talking to a fellow member of the staff as when addressing the family.”

THE BOOK: Servants’ Hall, the U.S. reissue of a 1979 memoir by former cook Margaret Powell, whose writings helped inspire “Downton Abbey.” JAN. 15
REMINDS US OF: The Dowager Countess, who can be relied upon to offer wry commentary on her family’s triumphs and heartbreaks—as in, “Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s terribly middle-class.”
WHO’D PROBABLY RELATE TO: “Mr. Kite’s conversation, never at any time calculated to raise one’s blood pressure, was, when one was tired, a positive soporific.”

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“Frozen in the harsh spotlight, he looked so crazy and old and forlorn and yet residually arrogant that an intense discomfort settled on the room, a discomfort that, in a non-charity situation, might have led to shouted insults or thrown objects, but in this case drew a kind of pity whoop from near the salad bar.” —Celebrated satirist George Saunders on a local-celebrity auction gone wrong, from his new short-story collection, Tenth of December. JAN. 8


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