Friday, March 27, 2020

The best books to help us through a crisis

Joe Moran is professor of English and cultural history at Liverpool John Moores University. His books include Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness and Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the Television.

At the Guardian, Moran tagged a few "books on how to keep calm in times of adversity - and take joy where we find it." One title on the list:
The coronavirus has put life on hold. In this time of fractured human contact and fear of the unknown, we need to read authors who will embolden us for the hard season ahead, while also offering a calming sense of perspective.

Eula Biss’s book-length essay On Immunity does the trick. She begins with the story of Achilles, whose mother dipped him in the river Styx only to leave the vulnerable spot on his heel where she held him. The story’s moral, in Biss’s words, is that “immunity is a myth … and no mortal can ever be made invulnerable”. And yet she admits that she found this message hard to accept after the birth of her son in 2009 – especially when, shortly afterwards, the swine flu epidemic began. Biss explores how hard it is for even the most clear-eyed of us not to succumb to panic and dread.

Gradually, though, she drags herself into the knowledge that we are stronger when we face our vulnerabilities collectively. She concludes that “immunity is a shared space – a garden we tend together”. On Immunity reminds us that we are precarious, mortal, dependent beings who need to look after each other. And this will always be true, whether we are facing a public health emergency or not.
Read about another entry on the list.

On Immunity is among Gavin Francis's top ten books on sickness.

--Marshal Zeringue