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!

6 thoughts on “The Plague Notebook: The New Agoraphobia & Plague Comfort Reading”

  1. “American bell-ringers…are furious because they have a concert schedule. ”
    Is this your mistake or Ms Willis’s?
    Campanologists – to use the official term – do not have concert schedules. Theyring the bells according to complex mathematical sequences which determine which bell is plated and when,

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    1. It’s either mine or Willis’s! Willis writes, “My ringers were supposed to give a handbell concert at rhw cathedral at eight o’clock and tomorrow we have to be in Norwich.”

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      1. Ah.
        In England “bell-ringers” nearly always means campanologists – people using the big bells in church towers. They use handbells to practise changes, but I don’t think they’d actually perform on them in public and no-one would be very interested if they did.
        Still, things might have changed by 2053.

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      2. I only know about bell-ringers from Dorothy Sayers’s The Nine Tailors. ” Many years ago, Dick Cavett had a hipster guest on his show who was reputed to be the last bell ringer, or campanologist, in the U.S. But Wikipedia, that encylcopeida of information and misinformation, says, “The North American Guild of Change Ringers, also known as the NAGCR, was founded in 1972 after the hanging of a ring of bells in the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., United States in 1964.”

        The group in “Doomsday Book” not only have a handbell-ringing concert scheduled , but are also “ringing a peal on Christmas Eve” in Norwich.

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  2. This would be a perfect time to reread this series — true! I know I have a proper copy of a couple of these, but not the whole series. You’ve inspired me to peek at my ebook collection though!
    Take good care. And good reading to you and yours!

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    1. I’m so impressed with Connie Willis, on the basis of Blackout and All Clear. Yes, they’re great to read: well-researched, suspenseful, and very entertaining. Hope you’re keeping well, too!

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