The link below is to an article that looks at publishing in the midst of a global pandemic.
In the previous post it was noted how difficult reading was to do in the current climate of anxiety and fear regarding coronavirus. However, the link below is to an article reporting on the surge in reading during the pandemic.
The link below is to an article that looks at why it’s so difficult to read a book at the moment.
The link below is to an article reporting on a surge in reading during the current Coronavirus pandemic.
The link below is to an article that reports on the rise in sales of both ebooks and ebook readers, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of traditional bookshops.
The sharp fall in population caused by the waves of plague which followed the arrival of the Black Death in 1348 led to one of the most dramatic periods of economic and social change in English history. By 1377, the population was around only a half of its pre-plague level but for those who survived there were new opportunities.
With a great deal of land now available, peasants could obtain larger holdings and rent them on more favourable terms. Likewise, those who worked for wages could take advantage of the labour shortage to obtain higher wages enjoy more varied diets – with more meat and dairy – and buy a wider range of manufactured goods.
The second half of the 14th century was thus a period of rising living standards, social mobility and increasing class conflict as the lower orders now sought to obtain improved terms from their landlords and employers.
The dramatic social changes of these years drew several responses from contemporary poets. In the medieval period, imaginative literature was often seen as having an ethical function by teaching virtue, which was defined as fulfilling the expected tasks of their social order. Modern literary critics often see imaginative literature challenging dominant ideologies or providing a sanctioned space for the expression of social dissidence. By contrast, the work of poets in the post-plague era often sought to buttress the social hierarchy against the threats with which it was now confronted.
Langland and Gower against the peasants
Such sentiments are to be found in William Langland’s allegorical poem, Piers Plowman (B-version written c. 1380). Here, the poet expresses his sympathy for those who were genuinely poor or hard-working but echoes post-plague labour legislation and attacked those who, he believed, preferred to beg rather than work.
There had been frequent complaints in parliament about labourers who preferred handouts to work or who took advantage of the labour shortage to demand higher wages. In response, a series of laws were introduced to reduce labour mobility and freeze wages at their pre-plague levels. Langland also calls upon the knightly class to defend the community from those “wasters” who refused to work and criticised the labourers who impatiently demanded higher wages and refused to obey the new legislation.
Contemporary moralists complained about those who rose above their allotted station in life and so in 1363 a law was passed that specified the food and dress that were appropriate for each social class. In line with such attitudes, Langland railed against the presumption of labourers who disdained day-old vegetables, bacon and cheap ale and instead demanded fresh meat, fish and fine ale.
Similar views are expressed in John Gower’s poem Vox Clamantis (the Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness) where the peasants are attacked for being idle and utterly wicked. The common people had fallen into an evil disposition in which they ignored the labour laws and were only willing to work if they received the highest pay.
When the lower orders refused to know their place, as in the Great Revolt of 1381 (also known as the Peasants’ Revolt), they were denounced by contemporary chroniclers as wicked, treacherous, and diabolical. In line with such criticism, Gower’s poem includes an allegorical account of the rising that portrays the rebels as farmyard animals rising up against their masters. They subsequently turn into monsters that attack humanity and becoming followers of Satan in their attachment to wrongdoing and slaughter.
Chaucer’s difficult voice
However, if Langland and Gower were openly hostile to the aspirations of the peasants and the labourers, Geoffrey Chaucer has proved more difficult to read. For many critics, Chaucer is a writer who prefers to present his readers with questions rather than providing them with stock answers. To them, his use of multiple voices and shifting perspectives pose a challenge to the accepted contemporary beliefs and exposes the kind of ideology found in the works of a Gower as partial and inadequate.
Yet for other critics, Chaucer is much more conservative or even, as the medieval scholar Alcuin Blamires puts it, reactionary in his outlook. After all, among the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales, those who are presented as admirable are the ones who dutifully perform the traditional functions of their social estate. For example, the Parson is a good shepherd to his flock, the Knight is a chivalrous crusader, and the Plowman works hard and faithfully pays his tithes. It is those who fail in their duties or seek to rise above their station whom Chaucer satirises – as when the Monk prefers hunting to a life of study and prayer or when the Wife of Bath seeks female supremacy in marriage.
Certainly, the Parson offers us a socially conservative message when, at the end of the Canterbury Tales, he preaches that as part of the divinely arranged cosmic order, God has ordained that some people should be of higher social rank and others should be lower. People should, therefore, render honour and obedience not only to God but also to their spiritual fathers and their secular superiors. Nobody should lament their misfortunes or envy the prosperity of others but rather should endure adversity in patience in the hope of obtaining joy and ease in the next life.
Given that medieval literary theory regards the ending of a text as being particularly important in conveying its meaning, we may perhaps regard Chaucer’s views as being in line with his Parson. If so, then Chaucer’s response to the social change of his day may have been rather closer to the views of Gower and Langland than many of his modern readers would like to admit.
With remarkable speed, numerous children’s books have been published in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis, teaching children about coronavirus and encouraging them to protect themselves and others.
Children’s literature has a long history of exploring difficult topics, with original fairy tales often including gruesome imagery to teach children how to behave. Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by the wolf in a warning to young ladies to be careful of men. Cinderella’s stepsisters had their eyes pecked out by birds as punishment for wickedness.
But this wave of coronavirus books is unique, being produced during a crisis rather than in its aftermath.
These books explore practical ways young children can avoid infection and transmission, and provide strategies parents can use to help children cope with anxiety. Some books feature adult role models, but the majority feature children as heroes.
The best of these books address children not just as people who might fall ill, but as active agents in the fight against COVID-19.
Our top picks
Written in consultation with an infectious diseases specialist and illustrated by Axel Scheffler of The Gruffalo, this nonfiction picture book offers children information about transmission, symptoms and the possibility of a cure, reassuring readers that doctors and scientists are working on developing a vaccine.
The last few pages answer the question “what can I do to help?”
Coronavirus: A Book for Children shows a diversity of characters taking action to manage the effects of the virus. Children are told to practice good hygiene, not to disturb their parents while they are working from home and keep up with their schoolwork.
It is also hopeful: reinforcing the idea that the combination of scientific research and practical action will lead to a point when “this strange time will be over”.
Written and illustrated by Helen Patuck, My Hero is You! is an initiative of a global reference group on mental health, and is a great book for parents to read with their children.
Sara, daughter of a scientist, and Ario, an orange dragon, fly around the world to teach children about the coronavirus.
Ario teaches the children when they feel afraid or unsafe, they can try to imagine a safe place in their minds.
Based on a global survey of children and adults about how they were coping with COVID-19, My Hero is You! translates the results of this comprehensive survey into a reassuring story for kids experiencing fear and anxiety. It also acknowledges the global nature of the health crisis, showing children they are not alone.
The Princess in Black is an existing series, with seven books published since 2014 and over one million copies sold. In the books, Princess Magnolia enlists children to help with a problem she cannot defeat alone: here, of course, that problem is coronavirus.
For fans of the series, Magnolia and her pals are familiar characters encouraging readers to solve the problem of coronavirus by washing their hands, staying at home, and keeping their distance.
The Princess in Black shows a deft use of humour to introduce children to complex ideas in a familiar and friendly manner.
Children’s books have often sought to entertain and educate children at the same time. The immediacy of these books, with their practical solutions and strategies for children to manage fears and anxieties about sickness and isolation, is a phenomenon we haven’t seen before.
With free online distribution and simple messages, these books present children with individual actions that have both personal and collective benefits.
Importantly, the heroes identified in these stories include children themselves. Their fears are acknowledged, but at the same time they are told they can fight the virus successfully.
A frequently updated list of children’s books on the pandemic is available from the New York School Library System’s COVID-19 page.
Shih-Wen Sue Chen, Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature, Deakin University; Kristine Moruzi, Research fellow in the School of Communication & Creative Arts, Deakin University, and Paul Venzo, , Deakin University
The link below is to an article that looks at how one person is missing libraries during the current coronavirus pandemic.
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Why do we have the arts? Why do they seem to matter so much? It is all very well muttering something vague about eternal truths and spiritual values. Or even gesturing toward Bach and Leonardo da Vinci, along with our own Patrick White.
But what can the poets make of, and for, our busy, present lives? What do they have to say during grave crises?
Well, they can speak eloquently to their readers for life, in writing from the very base of their own experiences. Every generation has laid claim, afresh, to its vital modernity. In the 17th century, Andrew Marvell did so with witty lyrical elegance in his verse To a Coy Mistress. Three centuries later, the French poet René Char thought of us as weaving tapestries against the threat of extinction. Accordingly, he wrote:
The poet is not angry at the hideous extinction of death, but confident of his own particular touch, he transforms everything into long wools.
In short, the poet will, at best, weave lasting, memorable, salvific tapestries out of words. The poems in question will come out live, if the poet is lucky, and possibly as disparate as the sleepy, furred animals caged in Melbourne Zoo.
What is truly touching or intimate need not be tapped by elegies, for all that they can fill a mortal need. Yet the great modern poet W. H. Auden wrote in memory of poet, writer and broadcaster John Betjeman:
There is one, only one object in his world which is at once sacred and hated, but it is far too formidable to be satirizable: namely Death.
As William Wordsworth and Judith Wright both well knew, in their separate generations – and quite polar cultures – the best poetry grasps moments of our ordinary lives, and renders them memorable.
Poetry can give us back our dailiness in musical technicolour: in a thousand yarns or snapshots. Poems sing to us that life really matters, now. That can emerge as songs or satires, laments, landscapes or even somebody’s portrait done in imaginative words.
Yes, verse at its finest is living truth “done” in verbal art. The great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov once insisted “nothing ever happens later”, and the point of poetry in our own time – as always, at its best – is surely to shine the light of language on what is happening now. The devil is in the detail, yes. But so is the redemptive beauty, along with “the prophetess Deborah under her palm-tree” in the words of the Australian poet, Peter Steele.
Poetry sees the palm tree, and the prophetess herself, vividly, even in the middle of a widespread epidemic.
Modern poetry is an art made out of living language. In these times, at least, it tends to be concise, barely spilling over the end of the page: too tidy for that, unlike the vast memorised narratives of the Israelites, the Greeks or even the Icelanders. But what it shares with the ancient, oral cultures is its connection with wisdom, crystallising nodes of value, fables of the tribe, moments or decades that made us all.
In the brief age of a national pandemic, poetry’s role and its duties may come to seem all the more important: all the more civil and politically sane. The poem – even in the case when it is quite a short lyric, even if comic – carries the message of moral responsibility in its saddle bag. Perhaps all poets do, even when they are also charming the pants off their willing readers.
Christopher Wallace-Crabbe is judge of the ACU Prize for Poetry. Entries close July 6.
The link below is to an article that looks at the coronavirus pandemic and how it is impacting on reading focus.