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Thread: What To Read During the Pandemic

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    What To Read During the Pandemic

    Literature for the Pandemic

    To paraphrase a line from one of the Sharknado movies, to think all this time we thought the world would end by zombies!

    Including The Book of Revelation by St. John, there have been untold numbers of literature works on dystopian themes. Some involve aliens, asteroid collisions, environmental disasters (both hot and cold), World War III, killer vegetation, reptilian monsters and sharks. Right up there though is the calamity that is listed as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

    Pestilence is a theme with all manner of allegorical meaning, religious and otherwise.

    In the midst of the turmoil caused by the current Covid-19 pandemic, here are a few titles which in some way involve the theme of disastrous illness:

    Boccaccio’s Decameron

    The 14th century Black Plague is the impetus for the Florentines to “self-quarantine” (rhyme not intended) at an isolated villa where they spin 100 tales to distract them from the terror.(I only recall it as a precursor to the great Canterbury Tales by the immortally healthy Chaucer.)

    "The Masque of Red Death" by Edgar Allen Poe
    This tale is set at a masquerade ball held in a castle built as a fortress against the red plague, fortunately fictitious.

    Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912)
    This emotionally moving novella is a tale of obsession. Again a plague --this time cholera – has beset a city, again, alas in Italy. Arguably, the story has quite a few parallels with the crisis the world is facing in Spring 2020 initial denial, misinformation, expulsion of tourists, health care and sanitation workers scrambling, similar to the news bites we’re seeing today.

    The soul of the story itself is the psychological suffering of the protagonist, Aschenbach, but the plague is the impetus for driving the plot.

    I recommend the book highly, as well as most works by Thomas Mann (though -- full disclosure–- I only read English translations.)

    And if you have an opportunity to see the 1971 movie version by Luchino Visconti and starring Dirk Bogarde, please do. Its cathartic effect will enrich one’s view of humanity.


    And finally, The Plague by Albert Camus
    This is set in a French Algerian city during the 1940s. Apparently there was a cholera outbreak there in that decade, but not nearly as virulent as the novel depicts. The plague is an allegory of the human condition, and the book is considered a classic in Existentialism. Passé in the 21st century? The term is still employed, perhaps too much, in the phrase “existential threat.”

    If you can think of any other pandemic works, please list ‘em on this thread.
    (Then wash your hands.)

  2. #2
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I recently bought One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I suppose Love in the Time of Cholera would have been better.

    They were talking about this on the radio several days ago. One of the presenters said she was going to read the Plague of Athens by Thucydides.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I prefer Love in the Time of Cholera.
    Defoe´s A Journal of the Plague Year.

    The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf. The story is set in a small and remote Swiss Community, the black spider was probably inspired by the pest.
    https://lithub.com/the-black-spider/
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

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    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Aunty

    Couple of books / films you mention evoke memories, but I seem to remember them differently in terms of emphasis, meaning and plot.

    Was not the film "Death in Veniice" about the infatuation of a dying man (Dirk Bogarde) for an angelic boy? More a theme of old age longing for youth?

    In "The Plague" by Camus I always thought he was referring to the spread of the Nazi's across Europe and elsewhere at the time. Mind you it was a long time ago since I read it.

    For the moment; about to enter a 12 week self isolation in the UK I will digest more cheerful fare. Rereading Elizabeth Longford's "The Years of the Sword" at the moment.

    Take care
    M.

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    Yep.
    Death in Venice is about obsession stemming from platonic -- if not homoerotic -- love, but the epidemic in that novel is symbolic, as is the cholera outbreak in French Algeria.

    And Defoe's work was the first one I thought of, but naturally in yours fooly's super-senescence I plumb forgot. And didn't even think of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work, which is sitting on a shelf, oddly enough, the prescribed three feet away.

    Forgive my memory lapse, but yours fooly is among the "vulnerable" would-be victims. Advanced age PLUS two germane (no pun intended) "pre-existing conditions." That's why I'm waiting 'til the very last minute to fill out the census form. (Hey, they want a correct count, don't they?)

    Remember the immortal time from the beleaguered Woody Allen: "I'm not afraid of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

    Yeah, but even so, when I go I'd prefer that it had been caused by something more dramatic than the fact that four months ago some guy in China ate a bat.

    But whenever a crisis hits, you can count on Americans to know exactly what to do: buy every last freakin' roll of toilet paper in the store!
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 03-21-2020 at 01:33 PM. Reason: fixed spelling of Dan's last name

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Never trust a pangolin.

    Some historians think the bubonic plague triggered the Renaissance (labor being in high demand, towns grew and serfdom fell apart).

    "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch" is fun, light reading.

    "Wolf Hall" deals with "sweating sickness" -- a plague in the time of Henry VIII that killed huge swaths of the population including Cromwell's family. Nobody knows exactly what it was.

  7. #7
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    Yep.
    Death in Venice is about obsession stemming from platonic -- if not homoerotic -- love, but the epidemic in that novel is symbolic, as is the cholera outbreak in French Algeria.

    And Dafoe's work was the first one I thought of, but naturally in yours fooly's super-senescence I plumb forgot. And didn't even think of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work, which is sitting on a shelf, oddly enough, the prescribed three feet away.

    Forgive my memory lapse, but yours fooly is among the "vulnerable" would-be victims. Advanced age PLUS two germane (no pun intended) "pre-existing conditions." That's why I'm waiting 'til the very last minute to fill out the census form. (Hey, they want a correct count, don't they?)

    Remember the immortal time from the beleaguered Woody Allen: "I'm not afraid of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

    Yeah, but even so, when I go I'd prefer that it had been caused by something more dramatic than the fact that four months ago some guy in China ate a bat.

    But whenever a crisis hits, you can count on Americans to know exactly what to do: buy every last freakin' roll of toilet paper in the store!
    Aiiii! Well there´s always LitNet, with all its present shortcomings, Auntie. And you won´t have to mind the feet.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

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    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Is it true that in the US that it's not just, (as elsewhere) panic buying toilet rolls, but a spike in gun purchases? I cannot see the connection.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MANICHAEAN View Post
    Is it true that in the US that it's not just, (as elsewhere) panic buying toilet rolls, but a spike in gun purchases? I cannot see the connection.
    Yes, you are correct. There has been a spike in gun purchases. One needs an AK-47 or a surface to air missile to keep the neighbors from stealing the stash of 100 rolls of toilet paper.

    Luckily, at least in my state there won't be too many gun-wielding drunks stumbling out of bars. They've all been closed.

    Not in all countries, according to this article:

    By the bye, the article reminds me that I forgot to correct the spelling of Daniel's surname. It's "Defoe," with a "de." Like Don DeFore, who appeared on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." The only Nitletters who'll get that reference are among the "vulnerable" population for the Coronavirus: geezers and geezettes such as yours fooly.

    Stay healthy, everybody!



    https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/t...1665-1.4206119

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I'm reading "The Passion of the Western Mind" by Richard Tarnas, the chapters on the rise of Christianity in Gibbon's "Decline and Fall", "The Odyssey" (Mandelbaum translation), and I'm going to start "Bleak House".

    "Passion" is an intellectual history of the West -- I'm only as far as Aristotle. Unfortunately, it's dry going compare to "Decline and Fall". The elegance of Gibbon's prose is augmented by Gibbon's penchant for ascribing the vicissitudes of history to the moral failings or successes of important actors.

    (The successors' of Augustus) unparalleled vices, and the splendid theater on which they were acted, have saved them from oblivion. The dark, unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the feeble Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius, and the timid, inhuman Domitian are condemned t everlasting infamy....
    Passages such as this wouldn't fly, I think, in modern history departments. In literary terms, though, Gibbon's direction is the way to go. It makes for excellent reading. Stories are about individuals, and the neo-Marxist notion that history should be about classes and groups may enhance understanding, but it limits a history's entertainment value.

    I'm not a Dickens fan, but since Bleak House is often regarded as his best novel, I'm giving it a try.

    I'm looking into The Odyssey because I'm thinking of writing a story for my 4 year old grandson based on that epic. If Joyce can do it, so can I (although not as well). Disaster (an earthquake) strikes Henry's pre-school, and he has to lead a band of intrepid tots through a broken and dangerous city in order to get home. The Lotus Eaters are (of course) inhabitants of a drug house. I'm trying to form the other adventures in my mind.

    I used to babysit Henry and his little brother for a full day and night every week -- but social distancing has banned me from their house, so I want to maintain my connection through a story. By the way, I talked to Henry on the phone yesterday, and he told me,"I love you Grandpa, and I'll never forget you even if you die."

    Troubling times for those of all ages.

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    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    I remember vividly the section of Gibbon that you show. There are bits of his prose that sticks in ones mind for ever.

    That's quite an emotive statement from your grandson. Sobering, yet supportive. Bless him.

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Curious about your impressions on Bleak House, Ecurb.

    I didn´t know you were grandfather. What a cute grandson you have.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I miss my two grandsons. That's why I mentioned them. I also miss my girlfriend, who is in her 60s (can we call a famous author in her 60s a "girlfriend"?), but has lung problems and is thus at risk and is isolating herself. My grandkids live in Portland (110 miles north of Eugene), and it wouldn't be bad avoiding the two hour drive twice every week if it weren't for the notion that it might be months before I can see them again. Two and four-year-olds change a lot in a couple of months. My girlfriend and I still go on walks together (maintaining the proper distance) but can't even eat together or watch TV together because of social distancing.

    I'm healthy (although I'm also in my 60s), and not worried about my own health -- but I am concerned about the health of others.

    In other family (literary) news, my son was supposed to head off to Harvard to give a speech as a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for investigative journalism, but the ceremony got cancelled due to the virus. Also, someone else won, although my son still raked in $10k for being a finalist.

    I'll report back about "Bleak House" once I read it. I sometimes have a problem starting long novels because it's such a commitment -- like launching a new relationship. I'm obsessive once I get involved and beginning Bleak House probably means spending 8 hours a day reading it until I'm done (it would still probably take 3 or 4 days).
    Last edited by Ecurb; 03-25-2020 at 12:40 PM.

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    LitNet just washed away my answer. Trying later.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

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    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    What about A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel DeFoe? I stumbled across this copy when I was decluttering and shredding.
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

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