Sunday, September 4, 2011

Book Selection: “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis Book Selection: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

I begin four days of entries about UK-related works with this historical/sci-fi novel about a time-traveler scholar from the mid-twenty-first century coping with all of the real-life complications that might beset someone visiting that mysterious, alien place known as England during the fourteenth century.

I started reading it one week ago during preparations for hurricane Irene, which was the perfect time to read things like passages about whether to cauterize the main character’s nostrils before her time-trip began in order to protect her against the Middle Ages’ omnipresent smell of corpses and rotting meat.  If you enjoy watching seemingly-simple plans become almost infinitely complicated while smart people try to cope, check out this novel.

Fittingly, since health concerns, including the looming threat of the Black Plague, play such a big role in the novel, it was recommended to me by a staffer at the American Council on Science and Health, where I used to work.  Also fittingly, I last week met a recent DC-NYC transplant named Bethany Shondark Murphy who revealed that her middle name is a bastardized version of Jean D’Arc – so much change over the centuries.

Too much change, perhaps, for one member of the comedy troop that taught us to laugh at the Middle Ages: Monty Paleo – pardon me, I mean Monty Python.  But John Cleese sounds ready for a subscription to American Conservative or Chronicles in that article on Drudge today.  The UK and the U.S. are very similar countries, but it’s interesting how much more easily people accept the idea of English-as-an-ethnicity in a nation over 90% white, which is decidedly different from the more abstract and hybridized U.S., New Hampshire notwithstanding. 

I would recommend that any future time travelers reading this aim for New York City instead of the English countryside, as you’ll find it much easier to blend here, with no one knowing what normal is anyway.

And speaking of time travel: steampunks rejoice!  The producers of Boardwalk Empire are sponsoring a recommissioned 1920s New York City subway train, which is making actual runs on the 2/3 line each weekend this month (as Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY notes).  If this is the doing of a DC Comics villain from the 1920s, I say we dub her the Time Flapper – but more on steampunk in two days and DC Comics in three days.  

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