“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” by Muriel Spark.

I don’t know why I expected this novel about an outspoken, shockingly progressive Scottish schoolmistress in the 1930s to be plodding and serious, but I was delighted by its sparkling, dry-as-a-bone wit.

The unmarried Miss Brodie cultivates a special set among the students at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh. She instructs these “Brodie Girls” in art, culture and passion, reminding them often that they are “the crème de la crème” (even when they quite clearly are not). Her unorthodox methods, love affairs and surprising admiration for Mussolini run afoul of school officials and lead to one student’s betrayal. Still, knowing humor outweighs bittersweet reflection here, and its slim length — 160 pages! — makes it a brief but desirable companion.


Quarantine Read is a recommendation of books that are comforting, uplifting, inspiring or funny to get us through these times. What do you suggest? E-mail books@startribune.com.