An Intergalactic Reading List

Dreaming of escaping to outer space during this time? We don’t blame you. Christopher Wanjek at the Guardian lists some of the best books that imagine a future on other planets. The list includes works by Martha Ackmann, Mary Roach, and Jules Verne. “The next few centuries may see us travel to Mars and beyond,” Wanjek writes, “but human explorers will find that writers have already planted the flag of the imagination on all these new horizons.”

Revisiting ‘The Decameron’ in Quarantine

Pandemic literature has been around for centuries, with one of the most popular being Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron. At Electric Literature, Elyse Martin examines how this collection of “medieval Italian sex stories” shows that storytelling is integral to our survival. “The rigid structure of the work—ten characters tell ten stories for ten days—seems at odds both with the chaotic setting of the plague and with the content of the tales,” Martin writes, “where characters tumble from fortune to misfortune to fortune again, with each spin of Fortune’s wheel. But this strict structure is intentional. Just as Boccaccio most likely wrote these tales as a way to understand and also escape the plague, so do his ten storytellers embrace this structure as an escape from the now ordinary chaos of their lives.”

The Many Layers of Ling Ma’s ‘Severance’

Ling Ma’s 2018 novel, Severance, is popping up on everyone’s pandemic TBR pile, due to parallels between the fictitious “Shen Fever” and the current-day coronavirus. For the Ringer, Jane Hu looks at why this novel resonates so deeply with our contemporary situation. “While I do not begrudge anyone the catharsis of readerly projection—especially during these bizarre times—that doesn’t mean that ‘Severance: it’s just like us’ hot takes are missing the point,” Hu writes. “For as the pandemic precipitates spikes in xenophobic sentiments, any over-identification with Ma’s novel based primarily on its ethnic coordinates […] should give us pause. That its author, a Chinese American immigrant, has refrained from all media requests is perhaps telling.”

Hold Off on Your Coronavirus Novel, Please

Has quarantine cabin fever driven you to write a COVID-19-inspired novel? For The New York Times, Sloane Crosley kindly asks you to put it aside—just for now. “From an artistic standpoint,” she writes, “it’s best to let tragedy cool before gulping it down and spitting it back into everyone’s faces. After all, Don Quixote was published about a century into the Spanish Inquisition. Art should be given a metaphorical berth as wide as the literal one we’re giving one another.”

Image credit: @alejandroescamilla

Inside Elisa Gabbert’s Notebook

Perhaps you’ve been inspired to keep a journal or diary during these confusing times. Over at Catapult, Elisa Gabbert reflects on the art of keeping a notebook. “My notebooks are not diaries because they have no timestamps,” she writes. “Dating the entries would impose a structure, a sense of continuity and narrative, on the writing inside. They capture thoughts, not events; they are lyric notebooks. I’d be having thoughts anyway, but now I write them down.”

Image credit: Lewis Ronald

A Book’s Debut Amidst a Pandemic

For Electric Literature, Amy Klein discusses being a debut author during the coronavirus quarantine, as bookstores close and events are canceled for the public’s safety. Despite her panic, she learns to get creative when promoting her new book, The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind. “Ultimately, this may not be as devastating for writers—or independent bookstores—as it initially felt to me,” Klein writes. “Authors can boost themselves, each other, and small bookstores on social media, and reach a captive audience who may be searching for distraction during a socially distant time.”

If You Give a Librarian a Cookie

Snacking while reading is a long-honored activity, though it hasn’t always been appreciated by librarians. NPR reports on a Cambridge University librarian opening up a rare book from the 16th century only to find a half-eaten chocolate chip cookie. “The librarian guesses this cookie could’ve come from the school that donated the book 50 years ago. The library wrote online it is happy to provide bookmarks, but, quote, ‘Please don’t use baked goods.'”

Image credit: Tom Murphy VII

Karen Russell and the Hungry Ghosts

For WealthSimple, Karen Russell recounts finishing her next book in the midst of being pregnant with her second child, and the financial and time calculations that must be done in order to get to that last page. “Writing has always been a matter of survival for me,” Russell writes. “becoming a mother has not changed that. But a book in utero feels dangerous to me in a new way now: it’s a hungry ghost on the desktop, a succubus draining security and attention from my real babies. An unfinished book — yawning, open, blank—is still the mouth I want to feed. Soon we’ll also be responsible for feeding two children.”

Image credit: Houari Boumedienne

Virginia Woolf on the Runway

Literature and fashion have a long history of inspiring each other, as seen in a list compiled by Jessica Heron-Langton for Dazed magazine. Mary Shelley, Anthony Burgess, Stephen King, and H.G. Wells: these authors’ books have inspired various fashion collections in recent decades. It’s no surprise that Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, in particular, seems to have inspired many a designer. “Woolf’s novel has gone on to become a cultural touchstone, notably in the LGBTQ+ community. With its extensive timespan and gender-fluid approach to fashion, a number of designers have looked to the book for inspiration. From Ann Demeulemeester and her AW07 collection to Christopher Bailey for his AW16 Burberry show, there is also Rei Kawakubo who has dedicated both her SS20 men and womenswear shows to the novel as part of a three-part project.”

A Brief History of Library Theft

“In 2009, a millionaire named Farhad Hakimzadeh was found guilty of stealing individual pages from ancient books from both the British Library and Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Using a scalpel, he carefully stripped out pages from 16th- and 17th-century tomes, including a 500-year-old map painted by Henry Vlll’s court artist.” These are just a few of the crimes-against-literature described in Tony Dunnell’s list of various things stolen from libraries for Mental Floss. From 400-year-old bibles to John F. Kennedy’s rocking chair, the list recounts various ways thieves have infiltrated libraries over the years, including the aforementioned Hakimzadeh, who claimed his “obsessive-compulsive bibliomania drove him to remove the pages to complete his own vast collection.”

Image credit: Dr. Marcus Gossler