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Life in the Time of Coronavirus

March 21, 2020

It has been some months since we posted to our blog. This has been due to work (and general laziness), not to COVID-19. We wanted our readers to know that we’re safe and sound, at least so far.

Williams College sent its students away for spring break a week early. They are to take their classes online until the end of Spring Term. Faculty now have only a short time to revamp their syllabi and change their teaching methods to suit the new reality of ‘social distancing’, and librarians like Wayne are similarly having to adapt. Like most of the Williams staff, Wayne has been working from home since last Wednesday. Since he can no longer provide rare books and manuscripts to students and faculty in person, he’s filling the hours checking catalog records, revising bibliographical descriptions, planning summer exhibitions – hoping that the exhibition galleries will re-open by summer – and meeting colleagues online. He’s also standing by to scan or photograph materials, though this falls short of experiencing the immediacy of original objects.

Since we’re both of an age, and since Christina has an artificial heart valve, we’re being especially careful about exposure. At the beginning of March, we went to New York City for the antiquarian book fair, one of the two big buying trips Wayne does as Chapin Librarian every year. Concerns about the virus were then only just becoming urgent, with elbow bumps beginning to replace handshakes. The fair was less crowded than usual, though in density of people far in excess of the levels now recommended. Of course, fewer buyers meant less competition, and Wayne did well in the five hours we allowed. Since it was Christina’s birthday, we bought for our home library something she had wanted for many years, the two-volume set of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung (1910–11) illustrated by Arthur Rackham. We couldn’t find one of the deluxe copies bound in white vellum, but spotted a first printing of the trade edition, itself somewhat deluxe, in very good condition and with its rare original dust-jackets.

Earlier this week, we learned that at least one of the dealers at the fair later tested positive for the coronavirus, and a few others were assumed to be infected. None of these was among those we visited, and most of those Wayne spoke with the longest have told him they’re doing fine. We ourselves have now passed the fourteen-day mark since the fair, without symptoms. We’re staying in as much as possible; each of our dentists and Christina’s hairdresser cancelled appointments as they too distance socially (to adapt the phrase), and we expect that other events in our diaries will have to be rescheduled also. For the time being, Wayne is making the weekly supermarket run solo, for perishables and prescriptions, to spare Christina the effort. Wayne having read about the fragility of supply chains, we had begun to build up a stock of non-perishables and other supplies even before our New York trip, and that has proved to be a good thing as our local supermarket now has many empty shelves and bins which are not being restocked very quickly.

A booklist from Sotheran’s, the London dealer, received about a week ago included an amusing note:

The nightmare of self-isolation – fourteen days at home, unable to leave the house, and nothing left on Netflix. And then you turn to the beautiful prints you bought that brighten up the walls, and the lovely books that stir your imagination and fill up the hours to the brim. Actually, is two weeks long enough?

Two weeks wouldn’t make much of a dent in the books we want to read and already have, let alone those yet to come, or the music we want to listen to, or videos to watch (we don’t do streaming, but have many DVDs). So fourteen days would not be a hardship – or fourteen months, for that matter. Christina, being retired, spends most of her time at home anyway; through the winter she has kept busy continuing to index our collection of Tolkien-related cuttings, letters, and ephemera. With spring having arrived, she’s looking ahead to work in the garden once the local nurseries re-open (we hope) starting April 1st. When not at the library, Wayne is still picking away at our long-expected book on Pauline Baynes. Together we wrote a brief obituary of Christopher Tolkien for the newsletter of the Children’s Books History Society, and are preparing a longer appreciation of Christopher for the next number of Tolkien Studies.

Stay well!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim Vandenberg permalink
    March 21, 2020 7:38 pm

    Glad you two are well! I was literally just searching my emails to see when the last communique was sent out, so the timing is perfect! Please stay safe & healthy in this time!

  2. March 21, 2020 9:41 pm

    I’d like to second this – glad you are well!

    Keeping fingers crossed for you and your loved ones!

  3. Alan Reynolds permalink
    March 22, 2020 4:26 am

    Stay well, Christina & Wayne.

    love from Alan & Louise


  4. janet nelson-alvarez permalink
    March 22, 2020 6:51 am

    very relieved to hear that you both are fine. Will very much look forward to the appreciation of Christopher and the book on Pauline. I’m sure that our current situation is different for everyone…but right now, it has made me feel very aware of the connectedness of our human family. Stay well!

  5. March 23, 2020 1:48 pm

    Ƿesaþ hāle! Bēoþ gesunde! I am glad to see that you both are fine. I am on the 2-weeks quarantaine. I hope we all will have more time now to write new texts, new books!

  6. Troelsfo permalink
    March 23, 2020 2:36 pm

    It is so good in times like these that we have this opportunity to keep up with how friends are doing – especially when they’re doing well. Thank you for the update – and “what all the others said …” 🙂

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