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Saturday, March 21, 2020

Recommended Reading While in Quarantine


I was asked a few times to recommend something to read during these times when many are quarantined during the coronavirus. So I will recommend two books, one spiritually beneficial and the other secular and entertaining, which have to do with both aspects of what the world is going through, namely quarantine and the virus. I will recommend two books that are immediately available online.

1. A History of the Monks of Syria by Theodoret of Cyrrhus

Many people going through quarantine will find themselves either confined to a relatively small space or even completely alone. And for most people this will be against their will. You can't even attend church services, even though you do have access to food in the markets and restaurants, but some will choose to get food delivered to them instead of going out for it. We've gone through this for about a week, and who knows how much longer it will continue. Perhaps cabin fever is setting in, which can cause severe psychological damage. If you can somewhat relate to this, then I highly recommend you read one of my favorite ecclesiastical texts. Here you will encounter people who voluntarily secluded themselves, sometimes in very extreme ways, in order to offer to God all their concentration, without distraction, or at least as little as possible. I promise you, what you are going through involuntarily is only a fraction compared to what they voluntarily went through. Theodoret himself visited and conversed with many of the monks we encounter in this book, so the history he gives has a very personal feel. You will not only be astonished by what you read, but you will be entertained as well - it's a fun read, and spiritually beneficial.

You can read it online here.

2. The Last Man by Mary Shelley

Most will be familiar with Mary Shelley for writing Frankenstein (one of my own personal favorite fiction books), the first science fiction novel ever conceived, when she was just 19. She wrote Frankenstein during a happier and optimistic period of her life, with so much to look forward to, even though the novel itself is quite dark and profound. If she wrote this in a period of optimism, then imagine what she could conceive of at the age of 29, by which time three of her children died as well as her husband and some close friends. She describes her grief as inconsolable at this time. With such feelings, she felt like she was the last woman alive. To deal with her grief she turned once again to writing, and instead of making it about the last woman she made it about the last man of the future, and called it The Last Man. It is the first post-apocalytpic novel ever written in the English language, that takes place towards the end of the 21st century (and also a story that inspired many films). It is a fictional book, but very autobiographical as well, with characters reflecting not only herself but also her husband Percy Shelley and her good friend Lord Byron. The story revolves around an air-borne plague that ravages the earth, beginning in Constantinople, then Athens, then the entire world. It is initiated when the Greeks are at war with the Turks to recapture Constantinople. Mary Shelley was a very passionate philhellene, like her husband Percy and her friend Lord Byron, and was keenly following the Greek war for independence that was taking place in her time. With Greek Independence Day approaching on March 25th, this novel is even more timely and exciting. Not to spoil it for you, but the story ends with one last man remaining after the plague ravages the earth, but it offers a message of hope applicable for our times.

You can read it online here. For more context, also read Mary Shelley as a Philhellene.



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