The Plague Notebook: The New Agoraphobia & Plague Comfort Reading

Staying home is “the new normal.”  I hear this often, though I wonder if it mightn’t be more proper to call it “the new norm.”   I admit,  the more genteel phraseology lacks the cuteness factor.  Let us be cute, because we must deflect our thoughts from Covid-19.

The new at-home culture feels like a footnote to an imaginary old-fashioned era, where towns were smaller, people stayed home and read  Book of the Month Club books, and shopped in their own neighborhood. Bustling came into fashion later.  Actually, some have always preferred staying home to bustling. 

And at least people can stay home without being labeled agoraphobic.

On the agoraphobic front, I am DYING to get out of the house. (What an unfortunate phrase!)  One bookstore has curbside service, but  I am reluctant.  Would we wear gloves and a mask for this delicate curbside transaction?  Do the booksellers have any protective gear? And isn’t the point of bookstores going into the bookstore?

Every time I get the urge, I remember the ice cream store the day before lockdown. Nobody was practicing social distancing at that point. 

WHAT WE’RE READING:  Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, which won the Hugo and Nebula Awards.  This brilliant time-travel novel novel is a  well-written  journey to the Middle Ages during the Plague.  In 2053, Kivrin, a medieval history student at Oxford, plans to visit a village near Oxford in the early fourteenth century.  She is mistakenly transported into England during  a Plague year (1338).  And at the other end of “the drop,’  the tech who operated the computer is stricken with a highly contagious respiratory illness.  

Believe it or not, reading a science fiction novel about the plague is both informative and  emotionally a comfort read.  Fiction helps us in very strange ways. 

And it is timely and pertinent.  Mr. Dunworthy, a history professor, must soothe a group of American bell-ringers who are at Oxford when the quarantine is imposed.  They are furious because they have a concert schedule.  He says,

“I will be more than happy to phone the cathedral and explain–“

“Explain!  I’m not used to having my civil liberties taken away like this.  In America, nobody would dream of telling you where you can and can’t go. “

And over thirty million Americans died during the Pandemic as a result of this sort of thinking, he thought.  “I assure you, madam, that the quarantine is solely for your protection…”

Let’s hope it won’t come to that!