Timely contents of a Little Free Library
Coronatime is transforming everything, multiplying the many forms of love. We are clinging to those we take for granted. Many of us are reaching out to long-lost friends and family members. Across the world people are singing in solidarity from their confined apartments in adjacent buildings. Others are cheering for exhausted healthcare workers who are risking everything. Healthcare workers are applauding patients coming off ventilators. Citizens are appreciating all the suppliers along the food chain. Some of us are venturing to shop for the frail. Over and over we are seeing the meme of love expressed through window panes. We are dreading the grieving love of passing life. At the same time, people are falling in love. From isolation to the dance of facial masks in public space, the thrill of fear and danger, it’s a Mardi Gras unlike any other. Symptoms are timeless: rising temperature, shortness of breath, and a nervous cough.
A novel that explores love and death in time of disease is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (1985, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman, 1988), which I serendipitously found recently in one of Atlanta’s little free libraries.
Sheltering in place still permits walking around, and Buddy the black pug and I have been going on long walks, passing a dozen little libraries. The point of this “world’s largest book-sharing movement” is to give a book to take a book, a perfect practice of socially distanced love whereby participants never even know their partners. The practice promotes pro-social free-floating love. The Little Free Libraries were was started by Todd H. Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin, back in 2009 and has become so popular that there are now little libraries all over the world and even little library-inspired works of art, such as this song by Bonnie Hundrieser and Lizzie Radke in Duluth, MN (courtesy of Bonnie Hundrieser):
Buddy and I got in the habit of going out empty handed and coming back with interesting books, slowly accruing debt. By the time coronavirus rolled around we owed seven books.
One of the uncanny finds was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. Its pages engulf. What does this Colombian great have to say about love during a plague?
Marquez depicts infectious disease as a tragedy to be prevented through public health measures. Dr. Juvenal Urbino, one of two protagonists, was trained in Paris in the latter half of the 19th century and returns to Cartagena, Colombia, to practice medicine following the death of his father from cholera. There he finds rampant disease and death (“it was impossible to discern the ardent scent of jasmine behind the vapors of death from the open sewers”), motivating his successful urban planning efforts. Then he falls in love, a sickness of its own. Justin Romero, who grew up in the Atlanta area, reads this passage from the third section of the novel in the following soundclip:
In so many other ways this novel is an exploration of love amid sickness and death. Florentino Ariza, the other protagonist and lover of Fermina Daza, is a counter current in the book. Whereas Dr. Juvenal Urbino leads a traditional expected development from youth into old age, Florentino is an old man from the time of his youth, ailing and perpetually lovesick, decadent, and on a different timeline marked by postponed love, detours, and seduction through letters. When Florentino is old he seems born again into a new youth, though the journey is foreclosed and haunted. Unexpectedly (because it is rare), this novel takes on the taboo topic of love in aging, challenging assumptions and stereotypes.
The book debt was weighing heavy on my mind and coronatime seemed the perfect time to also clear shelves and give back. Gathering seven old books, Buddy and I returned to the little libraries to stock them with what was dead or extra to us, possibly to be loved by someone else.