Quarantine Reads: Four Books to Read in a Pandemic
What do we do when our worlds get smaller — when our entire life shrinks to the four walls of a house? For most of us on this half of 2020, we know what that’s like.
According to new research from The Reading Agency, a British literacy charity, there has been a significant uptick in reading during quarantine — almost a third of people have read more books this year than previous years. Major booksellers have similarly seen their online sales of fiction increase astronomically. It seems that being forced into our homes has given us a global craving for the written word.
Literature has always allowed us to expand our minds and worlds, even when our physical worlds shrink; with one library visit we can see the search for the sublime in the 19th century, a glimpse into a new land, or a reflection of humanity’s deepest shared desires.
“Literature has always allowed us to expand our minds and worlds, even when our physical worlds shrink…”
Here are four book suggestions that may allow you to see the current pandemic in different ways.
The Plague by Albert Camus
This novel takes place in Oran, Algeria, where there is a plague epidemic after hundreds of rats die. Camus shows various reactions to the epidemic through different characters and, by doing that, he guides us to understand how people around us react to stress. Though this book is an allegory for Nazi occupation, his descriptions of the daily death toll and lockdowns seem eerily relatable to our world today. Be forewarned, though, this book is not for those with weak stomachs.
Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
Porter’s short novella is an introspective story about a woman who is stricken by the flu epidemic in 1918 as her boyfriend goes off to war. This book is based on Porter’s own affliction and survival of the Spanish flu, and her deeply evocative writing explores that experience. The protagonist fades in and out of a fever dream in which she sees death riding on a horse towards her. Porter deals with the death and fear she experienced in an unprecedented time, and gives us an intimate view of what it is like to contract a new and feared virus.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
In a dystopian world, Huxley brilliantly builds a futuristic society that has become completely efficient. Civilisation is indulged to the point that nobody has the drive to better themselves — every need is cared for. Brave New World takes on an eerie light when read through the lens of COVID-19. A society that sees death as no big deal and refuses to be bothered for anyone else’s good sounds familiar! It also leaves readers with relevant questions that we can take with us into a post-pandemic world about the value of life and shared humanity.
Silas Marner by George Elliott
Silas Marner tells the story of a man by the same name who has had many misfortunes befall him. He sinks into depression, eventually sequestering himself in the woods for many years- until an orphaned child arrives at his door. This sweet read takes a good look at the state of isolation and what we value when everything else is lost. It also shows how strangers can turn into family in the worst of crises, and carries with it a lot of implications to how we might view our relationships when we can join each other’s company once again.
Through stories of dystopia, humanity, and hope, these books, and many others, keep us connected to the shared pulse of humanity — even from six feet apart.