Ron Charles recently wrote in his Washington Post Book Club column – “Tom Perotta’s ‘The Leftovers’ might become U.S. policy,” reminding me of the 2011 novel about an apocalypse with two percent of the world’s population vanishing.
Charles points out the U.S. President has proposed tolerating the death of just one or two percent of us, as he urges the country to go back to work – Trump said: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents…”
Perotta frames his story around the 98 percent who are left. Two percent doesn’t seem so large a number; Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” imagines that a flu kills off 99 percent of the world’s population. Yet, who would volunteer to be one of the millions who are sacrificed for the good of the economy in an election year?
I looked back to my review of The Leftovers in 2011 and am posting it here. Chilling how fiction mirrors real life.
Are books contagious? Could the virus now circling the globe be hiding in the pages of a library book? Librarians strongly advise not trying to wash down the pages of your library books with Purell, but the Library of Congress has closed and Ron Charles of the Washington Post notes books returned to the library may have to be quarantined. He writes about the Great Books Scare in the eighteenth century when books were sterilized by fire, and advises us to “…stay alert to what might ignite such paranoia again.”
When customers are fighting over the last ream of toilet paper, and breathing seems optional or even dangerous, a book can be as comforting as chocolate. Fiction can take you somewhere else for a while. I have a friend who does not check out books from the library, preferring to order audible or ebooks, sometimes buying one new. I do have two books from the library:
All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
It is somewhat reassuring that I am the first to check them out.
But my savior may be Eric Larson’s new nonfiction book, The Splendid and the Vile, which I pre-ordered and received in the mail in its spanking new condition. There’s a different aroma from a new book, and it’s comforting to turn crisp clean pages, but despite Larson’s subject matter, his story may be reassuring. As Larson describes Churchill’s calm leadership dealing with the escalation of World War II in Britain in the year before America joined the fray, the story evolves like fiction. Yet it is not. It’s a good reminder; the worst happens again and again, and somehow we manage.