Pandemic, protests, economic crisis. Rougher times ahead, it all seems to indicate. What books to read?

Some choose to read classic books somewhat related to pandemics. Such as Camus’ “The Plague“, or even better, Bocaccio’s “Decameron“. Good choices, but, perhaps what you want is something more relaxing that actually makes you forget the virus, the protests and the crazy times we’re living in?

Well, I guess it’s all a question of choice. Here are some indications that we feel might be of interest.

Down and Out in Paris and London. George Orwell. If the economic situation turns for the worse, this might be a good book to prepare oneself.

Democracy: The God That Failed. Hans-Hermann Hoppe. An interesting discussion about democracy, in a moment when it appears to be in crisis.

Rhynoceros, Eugene Ionesco. An absurdist play about a very particular kind of epidemic. Funny and scary at the same time.

Brave New World. Aldous Huxley. Everybody talks about “1984” as the defining dystopia of the 20th century, and while it is perhaps the better book in many ways, this novel may have gotten closer to what current society is really like (or will be soon).

Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. Everyone thought that the Internet would herald a new age of free speech, but the current censoring going on at Youtube, Facebook and Google in the name of the “politically correct” has disproved that idea. Actually, in some ways, thanks to technology, it has never been easier to institute censorship and thought control.

The Great Depression. Dorothea Lange. Classic photographs of a period of crisis after the 1929 crash. Iconic images of a time that no one hopes will come back.

A statue of Miguel de Cervantes in San Francisco has been vandalized by Antifa and BLM militants. It is not clear what did they have against the greatest Spanish writer. Maybe they confused him with someone else? Maybe they are just destroying all white people statues at this point?

The fact that Cervantes was taken as a slave by the Turks after the Battle of Lepanto, where he lost use of his left hand, only adds to the irony. If they are protesting against slavery, they took the wrong guy.

In any case, it is a worrying phenomenon. In fact, the whole thing about vandalizing statues and monuments strikes me as extremely negative, independently of whose statue it is. Because it is an attempt at destroying or negating the past. Of course, in same cases, such as the toppling of the statues of tyrants at the end of Communism or other tyrannical regimes, this may be understandable, but in general it is not an advisable policy.

Apparently, during the recent protests, some statues were first decapitated before they were taken down. Heinrich Heine once said something to the effect that “those who start by burning books end up burning people”. We may also assume that “those who start decapitating statues end up decapitating people”.

At least they didn’t topple it.

What are “malacomorphs”? Well, “malakos” in Greek means literally “soft”, but it’s also by analogy how we scientifically call mollusks, including snails: malacology, for example, is the study of mollusks. So “malacomorphs” are snail-creatures.

For some reason that even most specialists don’t know, many manuscripts have in their corners little illustrations of snails and other animals. In some cases, the snails are crossbred with other animals or even humans. There is even a manuscript with an illustration of people living in snail houses.

Why snails? There are some hypotheses about their possible symbolism, but no one know for sure. Violent rabbits are also popular, which might have influenced Terry Jones in creating that famous scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

An angry malacomorph

We spend several hours each day looking at screens. Most of what we read, for work or for leisure – reports, student essays, blogs, newspapers – now we read on a screen.

But reading on a screen is less conducive to concentration than reading on paper. At least, that’s what a recent study from 2019 seems to indicate. Students memorize better what they read on paper.

I don’t think it has to do with the brightness of the screen affecting our eyes. It’s just that on a screen, and particularly if we are reading on the web, that so are many more elements that catch our attention that it is difficult to focus just on simply following the text. And most of it is really involuntary: our eyes meander around the screen captured by images or ads, and our brain has so many different stimuli that concentration becomes harder.

But there is another question related to reading on the Internet that has been less discussed: what would happen if, say, there was some kind of digital apocalypse and all servers worldwide went down? A lot of the information online has no actual existence beyond data in the cloud. Granted, it’s not likely that this could happen, and of course there is a lot of redundancy and multiple copies on multiple servers, but still, text written on paper has survived for millennia. And digital technology is very recent and yet it has gone to so many changes, from floppy disks to zip drives, that we really cannot be sure how it will be a thousand years for now.

So paper will probably remain with us, one way or another.

Some people love ice cream. Some people love video games. Some people love alcohol and drugs. We love books.

Well, I know I do.

I grew up surrounded by a large collection of books and by my dad’s full set of twenty volumes of the original Encyclopedia Britannica. It was my Google. There was no Internet then, or, at any rate, no Wikipedia yet. (And nothing against Wikipedia, but the old-style Britannica was something else).

I still love the physical aspect of paper books, and I prefer to read in the paper format whenever I can. Which means, most times except when I am travelling. I do love the practicality and malleability of e-books, but as physical objects, there’s nothing like a paper book.

Of course, paper books occupy space. And if you move or travel constantly, as I did in the last ten years of my life, then you cannot carry them with you at all times. Unfortunately, I had to get rid of an awful lot of books in my life, some of them books that I liked very much. Well, not really “get rid” – they were not thrown in the trash or burned, I couldn’t possibly do that. They were given away to friends or donated to libraries, so there’s the hope that the same old books will give joy to others the same way they gave me.

I hope you love books too. I hope you love the books that we publish, especially. I hope you buy them all. And if one day you need to move and can’t carry all of them with you, give them to a friend or donate them to a library.