Boris Johnson, President Trump, President Macron – these are just some of the important people who have appeared on our television screens in the last few days. They have all been seated behind their impressive desks and, over their shoulders, we can see their floor-to-ceiling bookcases.
I have found myself paying more attention to the book titles than the meaningless words of encouragement these world leaders have for us poor masses, huddled in self-isolation. They have all been saying the same thing – stay at home and hope, even pray, that the virus goes away. Not a great recommendation for the state of science and medicine well into the twenty-first century. We would have heard much the same advice during the Black Death in 1334 (killed 50 million) or the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918 (killed between 20 and 40 million).
Do they have a Keeper of the Bookshelf to make sure that only books suitable for a world leader are shown? It would not reflect well on a leader of the world to see a well-thumbed collection of pornography sitting on their bookshelf. But surely, they must read something a little more exciting than Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Ernest Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees.
By the time you read this we will have been granted a view of Queen Elizabeth II’s study in Windsor Castle. The Queen is in self-isolation together with the Duke of Edinburgh. She has already filmed a broadcast message to reassure her nation that the UK will get through the coronavirus crisis. The pictures accompanying the build-up to this event show a background of flowers on a wall of carved panels. A Christmas tree in the corner suggests that the photo was taken during the Queen’s Christmas speech. There are no books in sight; we can gain no insight into the Queen’s reading, at Christmas or during the coronavirus lock-down.
But these are days without precedence. Young and old, rich and poor, known and unknown, we are all in this together. The virus makes no social distinctions. Perhaps we would feel better if we knew that the Queen of England is deep into the latest Lee Child story, that President Trump has his feet up in the Oval Office with Janet Evanovich’s Umpteenth Stephanie Plum novel.
I am prepared to do my bit and offer both the Queen and President Trump free copies of my latest Len Palmer Mystery. Lesser folk will have to buy their own copies.