Black Humor and History in a Time Of Quarantine

If we all end up in a COVID-19 quarantine, we will of course have lots of time to catch up with our reading and viewing.

Here are a couple topical suggestions. I haven’t actually read these books or seen  one of these two films, but maybe now is the time when I will at last. 

Lakeville Journal Co. graphic designer Olivia Montoya recommends the film “Contagion,” directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon (it came out in September 2011). 

“I’ve heard that it’s one of the more accurate portrayals of pandemics in film,” Montoya told me. 

“Most others are sensationalized and not scientifically accurate, but this one was meant to show what  a modern pandemic would actually look like. 

“It’s not like a zombie movie; there are some parts that are upsetting and slightly scary but it’s not gory or anything. 

“I saw it when it first came out and enjoyed it. I think I’ll watch it again, to see if what I remember about it is true to what’s happening now.”

Not that this virus is anything like the bubonic plague, but perhaps this is the time for us to read Giovanni Bocaccio’s “The Decameron,” which we were supposed to read in college and didn’t. 

This is not a diverting page-turner, but it’s one of those classics that’s still around because it so completely captures human existence. 

Published first in Italy in the 1300s, “The Decameron” is a collection of 100 stories told by seven young women and three young men who are holed up in a villa outside Florence, trying to avoid the plague. 

Without having read it, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is probably one of those books that will be more interesting to read if you can really burrow down with it and spend some time, without distractions from the modern world.

Another book I didn’t read (but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t assigned to me in college) is “A Journal of the Plague Year” by Daniel Defoe. 

Unlike “The Decameron,” which is about fantasy, Defoe’s book (published in 1722) graphically describes the horrors of London during the Great Plague of 1665. 

There are death carts and burial pits and houses of death with crosses marking their doors. 

Best case, we will read this book and be glad that things are better managed in the modern world. 

The comic relief version of life in the time of the Black Death in England is, of course, the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It’s not funny when the collector of bodies goes through town calling, “Bring out your dead!” but … well, it’s funny if it’s just a movie. 

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