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Your Pandemic Book Reading List

In case you have not had your fill of it.

Well, I've only got one of the books below on my pandemic list, but there are many others of different vibes to choose from. Take your pick!

(From the New York Times)

Our pandemic book lists


To no one’s surprise, 2020 was the best year for print sales in a decade.

  • A Journal of the Plague Year,” by Daniel Defoe: Whether it’s 1665 or 2021, heroes and villains always emerge during a crisis. Essential workers (whether grave diggers or grocery store employees) will always bear the weight of our collective indifference. And the wealthy will usually escape the worst of any plague (unless their servants bring it into the house). — Shalynn Womack, 63, Nashville
  • Heaven’s Coast,” by Mark Doty: Doty’s tremendous writing on the grief surrounding the death of his longtime partner in the middle of the AIDS crisis helped me begin the process of understanding the tremendous loss of Abby, my girlfriend of eight years, and how to remember her. — Logan B., 26, Houston
  • Early in the pandemic, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel García Márquez, lifted me out of my world of hand washing and sanitizing, and reminded me life (and love) go on even during difficult times, under difficult circumstances. My parents and grandparents are no longer here to tell their stories of endurance and recovery. I needed to hear someone’s story. — Sarah Smith, 63, New Orleans
  • The Great Influenza,” by John M. Barry: Too much of history was repeating itself in my city, and I had to stop frequently (and occasionally cry) as I read about what happened in 1918 and imagined what could happen in 2020. — Ian Korn, 38, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow,” by Amor Towles: It’s about a Russian aristocrat placed under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel who must learn to craft a rich, new life within the confines of the hotel. What has stuck with me is Count Rostov’s philosophy regarding the limitations placed on his previously unfettered life.— Heather Schwartz, 52, Delaware County, N.Y.
  • Weirdly enough, “The Stand,” by Stephen King. As horrible as dealing with Covid has been, the devastating nature of the virus in the book made me feel like we got lucky in comparison. People might be resistant to get the vaccine, but at least our scientists survived long enough to create one. — Mia Wilson, Baltimore

Authors and publishers are finally catching up, as the pandemic and its attendant feelings of loneliness and isolation have started showing up in novels.

The coronavirus is the coda to Sally Rooney’s newest novel, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” out last month. And it’s the backbone of two forthcoming books: “The Sentence,” by Louise Erdrich, and Gary Shteyngart’s “Our Country Friends.”

My colleague, the Times book critic Molly Young, called Shteyngart’s book “the first great Covid-19 novel.” It tells the tale of seven friends (and a nemesis) who gather at a Hudson Valley estate to wait out the pandemic. (Read her glowing review.)

In today’s newsletter, we have four other recommendations for pandemic reads from Molly as well as Dwight Garner, a Times book critic. We’ve also got your suggestions, after nearly 400 of you shared the books that helped them get through the pandemic.

If you’d like to discuss these recommendations and share some of your own, click here to go to the comments section.

From the critics


The Chuckling Fingers,” by Mabel Seeley: Escapism alert! This is the book equivalent of hot cocoa. Mabel Seeley is a somewhat-forgotten writer of mysteries from the 1940s, and her best work (this one) has been reissued. Read if you like Agatha Christie, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, secluded lake houses and whodunits. — Molly Young

The Hot Zone,” by Richard Preston: Not in the mood for comfort reading? Scare the daylights out of yourself with this account of the Ebola virus. Stephen King called it ‘One of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read’ — and who am I to argue? You may wish to wear gloves to prevent chapping your fingers from page-turning at warp speed. — Molly Young

Year of Plagues: A Memoir of 2020,” by Fred D’Aguiar: D’Aguiar is a poet who was born in London to Guyanese parents. His memoir is about how he learned he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer, and having to cope with his treatments while also dealing with the era of Covid. His memoir is funny; it’s warm; it’s unnerving; It’s a poet’s book, too, a storm of language. — Dwight Garner

If you’re in the mood for a sweeping, authoritative and prescient thriller (and who isn’t?) about viruses and their potential impacts, I suggest Lawrence Wright’s “The End of October,” which came out in the first flush months of Covid panic. It’s about a world in shock and ruin because of a virus similar to Covid-19. It reads like a rocket, and it is scary, scary, scary. — Dwight Garner

From our readers


Plague and lockdown stories

“I’ve read many post-apocalyptic books since the pandemic started. The outcome in these books is always more horrific then what we were going through. I was always left feeling relieved at how our world has coped compared to the world in the novels.” — DiAne Thomas Gordon, Memphis
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
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