This month’s book recommendation is The Plague and I, published by Betty MacDonald in 1948. The book is a lightly fictionalized account of MacDonald’s nine-month stay in a Seattle tuberculosis sanatorium in the late 1930s, when TB was known as “the white plague”; there were no effective vaccines; and treatment entailed rigorous bedrest, hearty meals, and an occasional session of artificial pneumothorax, in which gas was injected into the pleural cavity. Survival was far from certain and recovery times were long: many of MacDonald’s fellow inpatients remained at the sanatorium for years.
Sounds grim, right? Here’s the thing: it’s a hoot. MacDonald is sadly overlooked now—she died in 1958—but she was one of the foremost comic writers of her era, and The Plague and I is sharply observed, un-self-pitying, and downright chipper. (One of the chapters is titled “I’m Cold and So Is the Attitude of the Staff.”) I guarantee it will make you feel much more upbeat about our own current predicament.