“When I go into hospital for an operation, I always re-read Ulysses.” I would have taken the speaker as a resident of ‘Pseud’s Corner’ until I remembered that after a high-impact landing on my left shoulder brought a skiing holiday to an abrupt end, I read Ulysses. Well, it was that or Danielle Steel in German.
But passing time while you are condemned to the sick role but not actually feeling unwell is very different from being properly ill. Could anybody in bed with flu manage to get through Ulysses? That would be a diagnostic test, like dropping a £20 banknote on the floor and checking whether the patient gets out of bed to pick it up. If you can, you haven’t got flu.
So what helps the sick recover? A good story, heavy enough not to feel that your brain is rotting but light enough to be held by weak hands and enjoyed by a fuzzy brain, certainly. Long books to while away the long hours seem a good idea. Perhaps War and Peace: an involving tale with a huge cast of characters, and it comes in two easy-to-manage volumes. But it is 1500 pages. If somebody gives it to you as a patient, do they know something you don’t?