“‘Stay at home and avoid social contact,’” says the meme; “Introverts Everywhere: ‘I’ve been preparing for this moment my whole life.’”
Since we are all likely to veer into lonely stay-at-home time in the coming weeks, best to prepare with a good pile of books to read after—let’s be honest—we all get sick of bingeing Netflix. We all know about Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” and we might even attempt a deep dive into Italian fiction with the pope’s favorite plague-ridden novel, The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni. Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year is another topical work of literature for those who want to stick with the classics.
The cathartic quality of these books is questionable given our current circumstances, and may result in increased paranoia and panic. For those looking for escapist literature, might I suggest another Italian genre: the chivalric Renaissance epic? Whether in the form of Pulci’s Morgante, Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato, or Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, these offer plenty of humor, violence, love, and social commentary (relevant to somebody else).
Since this is Lent, one could use this opportunity to read spiritual books. St. Aelred of Rievaulx’s The Mirror of Charity is a fine introduction to Cistercian spirituality. The late Stratford Caldecott’s All Things Made New is both a reflection on the symbolism of St. John’s Apocalypse and a meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary. Or one could jump into Scivias, the mystical visions of St. Hildegard of Bingen, one of the most recently-named Doctors of the Church.
We could also use this opportunity to begin correspondences with writers and thinkers we’ve always admired from afar. Many authors provide contact information on their websites, or else can be easily found on social media. You can pester James Matthew Wilson on Twitter, for instance, or find out which Reddit forums are haunted by your favorite writer.
Better yet, use this time to start on your own writing projects. Many readers have writing ideas back-burnered in their subconscious. This would be a great opportunity to bring those up front and see what you can do with them. Maybe it’s an essay idea. Maybe it’s a poem or short story. Maybe you want to write a Dictionary of Postmodern Tropes; to each his own. Cambridge had to close temporarily in 1665 due to the bubonic plague and forced Isaac Newton to stay home, time he used to develop his theory of gravity. As Donna Tartt once wrote, there is no greater impetus for creativity than boredom.
So hurry up and get bored.