We think Covid-19 times are tough. But the real thing was (and still is in some places) bubonic plague, “The Black Death”. In the late 1340s it killed half the population of Europe. Boccaccio’s Decameron, set near Florence in the plague year 1348, collects the stories supposedly told by refugees sheltering out of town, to entertain themselves. It remains a popular classic.

The plague hung around for centuries. It hit London again in 1664. The rich fled. The city was locked down. Emergency workers patrolled the streets, ringing bells and crying “Bring out your dead!” Daniel Defoe was five at the time, but when he published A Journal of the Plague Year 60 years later it was terrific, and seemed factual. It still is, and does.

Classics like these are out of copyright; anyone can print them; they come cheap. Some publishers specialize, notably Dover Books with its “Thrift Editions”. The list price for Defoe’s Journal is $5.00.

With libraries and shops closed, how to get these, and other, books? There’s Amazon, if you’re online, but they’re busy selling groceries. And Bezos has enough of our money already. Our local booksellers aren’t really closed; they’ve adapted to circumstances. And they need our support now, so we’ll have them in the future. (Restrictions may be easing soon.) If they haven’t got exactly what you want, they’ll do a better job of finding something else than an algorithm will.

Bridgton Books, 140 Main Street, 647-2122, 7 days 10:00-4:00; phone orders, curbside or postal delivery. Tribune, 430 Main Street, Norway, 739-6200, Wed-Fri 10:00-4:00, Sat 10:00-2:00; phone, curb, post.

Lots of good stuff is out of print. Second-hand booksellers have it. Maine Bookhouse, 1545 Main Street, Oxford, 743-9300, phone any time and they’ll respond, curb, post. Food for Thought, 446 Main Street, Norway, 743-9488, phone, curb, post.

If you’re comfortable reading on screen, or printing out hundreds of pages, there’s Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org), Google Books, and other internet services.

Pandemics are no excuse for not reading.

David R. Jones normally spends a lot of time in bookshops.


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