Snails, Shakespeare, and Stories

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March 24, 2020 by libroshombre

Viral allusions appear everywhere you look, even children’s books.  For instance, “Snails Are Just My Speed,” a nonfiction work from Toon Books, is a fount of excellent graphic literature for younger children and naturally discusses mucus.  Snails make a lot, using it as lubricant, sunscreen, oil, glue, and shell repair, but it was unsettling to learn that even uninfected humans produce four cups of mucus daily.  Our current plague has many parallels in classic literature.  In’s recent “Shakespeare Wrote His Best Works During a Plague,” Daniel Pollack-Pelzner cited Bardologist James Shapiro’s suggestion that the “closure of theaters, in 1606, allowed Shakespeare, an actor and shareholder in The King’s Men, to get a lot of dramatic writing done, meeting the demand for new plays in a busy holiday season at court. According to Shapiro, he churned out King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra that year,” along with some immortal poetry.

In other words, properly approached, this era of isolation could prove productive.  Among several home- and self-improvement schemes under consideration at Casa Hill, the least threatening personally is “reorganizing my study,” i.e. moving a bunch of books out.   But that’s like winnowing a collection of good friends: which is least good?  The likelihood of distraction is profound so I’m moving things along with a mind game: which dozen titles would I take into long-term close quarantine?  Storybooks (Arabian Nights, Riverside Shakespeare), thought-provoking (Montaigne’s Essays, Layman’s Parallel Bible, Garrison Keillor’s “Good Poems”), fiction (Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin 7,000-page series, Annotated Jane Austen, Library of America’s Complete Twain, Welty, and Steinbeck), humor and distraction (omnibuses of Wodehouse, Rex Stout, and NYTimes crosswords).

Then there’s sequential art (complete Calvin & Hobbes, Prince Valiant, Krazy Kat, and Uncle Scrooge McDuck Adventures), reference sources (American Heritage Dictionary, 1970 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica), and books in lieu of a baseball season (“A Day in the Bleachers,” “Best Game Ever,” “But Didn’t We Have Fun?”).  I’m closing in on two dozen with no real end in sight.

And how could I forego Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” of all books?

It was written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the wake of a plague-ravaged Italy in 1348.  As described in, “The work is regarded as a masterpiece of classical Italian prose … it breaks from medieval sensibility in its insistence on the human ability to overcome, even exploit, fortune.  It’s a group of stories united by a frame story. As the frame narrative opens, 10 young people (seven women and three men) flee plague-stricken Florence to a delightful villa in nearby Fiesole. Each rules for a day and sets stipulations for the daily tales to be told by all participants, resulting in a collection of 100 pieces … Each daily collection of stories takes a different tone or theme. Day 1 consists of a witty discussion of human vices. On Day 2, fortune triumphs over its human playthings, but it is trounced by human will on Day 3. Day 4 is marked by tragic love stories.” And so on

There’s something for everyone, including Geoffrey Chaucer, who adapted the frame and multiple storytellers approach for “Canterbury Tales,” and Shakespeare, who drew on Boccaccio for “Taming of the Shrew,” “Measure for Measure,” and others.  A book of diversion planned around plague-induced isolation seems right down our alleys.  You can download a copy to keep through Project Gutenberg (, or you can borrow it, and a jillion other books, movies, magazines, tutorial, lesson plans, and much, much more from our public library’s online resources at  The library’s Hoopla subscription provides “movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics, and TV shows on your computer, tablet, or phone – and even your TV!”  There’s multiple health, investment, consumer, education, and self-improvement databases, even live homework tutoring.  And it’s free.  Doubtful about making the necessary connections?  No problem; librarians are on call at Noel Wien Library (459-1020) Monday-Friday 10AM-6PM, and Saturday 10AM-5PM, and at North Pole Branch (488-6101) Tuesday-Friday 11AM-6PM and Saturday 11AM-5PM.

As plague survivor Boccaccio wrote, “You must read, you must persevere, you must sit up nights, you must inquire, and exert the utmost power of your mind. If one way does not lead to the desired meaning, take another; if obstacles arise, then still another; until, if your strength holds out, you will find that clear which at first looked dark.”



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