Good advice on coping with social isolation is emerging from the Cloud and even higher. Astronaut Scott Kelly’s space station experience led to this advice: follow a schedule, take time out for pleasure, keep a journal to put your experiences in perspective, connect with family and friends through social media and wash your hands — “often.” Kelly also recommended listening to real experts. Particularly in challenging times, “we have to seek out knowledge from those who know the most about it … Social media and other poorly vetted sources can be transmitters of misinformation, just as handshakes transmit viruses, so we have to make a point of seeking out reputable sources of facts.” Kelly also strongly suggests reading real books. “Some people are surprised to learn I brought books with me to space. The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical book — one that doesn’t ping you with notifications or tempt you to a new tab — is priceless.”
Closer to Earth, in the Cloud, Toni Armstrong Jr. provided a daily checklist for staying healthy, including shower, drink water, clean one thing and be “mindfully present” to music, art and feelings. Her list included goals good books can help provide: “get your heart rate up,” “do one thing you’ll be glad you did later,” “do one thing just because you want to,” and “get in at least one good laugh.” And when it comes to books you can sink your intellectual teeth into, nothing beats a codex.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary’s word note, a codex is a “book formed of bound leaves of paper or parchment,” as opposed to rolled-up scrolls. The Romans had notebooks bound along one side by the first century BCE., originally using them for manuals and commercial transactions, but within a century literature was being copied into them, with lots of room in the margins to take notes. This appealed especially to early Christians because, unlike unwieldy scrolls, codices are easier to handle in finding information scattered throughout a work, and both sides of the pages can be written on, compacting the overall size.
Particularly in troubled times like these I crave books that help me understand, and informative, annotated books fit that bill. It soothed a childhood trauma to read Michael Hearne’s “The Annotated Wizard of Oz” and learn that the flying monkeys were actually good guys forced to live up to the demands of whomever possessed a certain golden cap and said an incantation ending “Ziz-zy-zuz-zy, zik.” The annotator noted that Oz author Frank Baum based this on similarly-metered nonsense lines from Mother Goose, like “higglety-pigglety-pop” which led to “The Annotated Mother Goose” by William Barning-Gould, a personal favorite, where you’ll discover that “Hush-a-by, baby” “may have been a corruption of ‘He bas, la le loup!’ (‘Hush! Here comes the wolf’) — an expression used by French nurses to ‘soothe’ their little charges when they were being obstreperous.” The “bunting” in “Bye baby, bunting” is “an old form of endearment,” an archaic term the OED says meant “short and thick … as a plump child.” The rhyme originally went, “Bye-bye, baby bunting; Your Daddy’s gone a hunting; Your Mammy’s gone the other way; To beg a jug of sour whey; For little baby bunting.” Meanwhile, “Humpty-Dumpty” is called “boule, boule” in France, “Hillerin-Lillerin” in Finland, and in Switzerland “Annenadadeli.” Baring-Gould cited the OED’s claim that Humpty-Dumpty’s also a girls’ game, an ale-and-brandy drink and “a short clumsy person of either sex.”
It’s easy to be relaxed and reflective when you’re safe and sound in comfortable isolation within a large, vigorous library, posing as your house. There are many pressing urgencies afflicting so many of our neighbors, and those that can should be stepping up right now to help out however they can. Regardless of your situation, taking daily time out to transport yourself in a book is a healthy practice. As reported in “The Reading Brain (Why Your Brain Needs You To Read Every Day),” an online article by Thomas Oppong, regular reading hones your wits, refreshes your emotions, slows the body’s decline and relieves boredom. As Chilean poet Roberto Bolano said, “Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people’s ideas, like listening to music, like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.