One “silver lining” of the COVID-19 pandemic has been time (dare I say too much time?) for reading. I am plowing through my library, and may even complete my lifelong quest to finish Proust. I’m also drawn to books about social distancing, pandemic-inspired and otherwise.
I know I’m not alone here. The movies and documentaries about plagues and pandemics topping Netflix’s lists make that obvious. So do recent book club suggestions to resurrect books like Love in the Time of Cholera and Station Eleven. So I thought it might be fun this month to see what other books about pandemics, plagues, quarantines, exile, and/or social distancing homebound readers have found.
Socially Distant Stories
As both an historian of medicine and science writer, I have many books about plagues and pandemics on my bookshelves. I’ve turned to them many times in the past months. Favorites include Charles Rosenberg’s The Choiera Years, Gina Kolata’s Flu, and William McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples.
When it comes to fiction, the first book I felt compelled to read after COVID-19 hit was Boccaccio’s classic The Decameron. Concerning 10 young Italian aristocrats who flee Florence to escape the plague and self-isolate in a secluded countryside villa telling stories, it was an obvious draw. (Also worth watching is The Little Hours, a slapstick black comedy loosely based on some of the tales they tell. )
I also read two other books that were about social distancing more generally: E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, and Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow. The first concerns a technology-dependent humanity living underground in separate cells. Written in 1909, it is chillingly prescient about what we’re facing right now. A Gentleman in Moscow is equally relevant. It tells the story of a Russian aristocrat ordered by the Soviet regime to spend his entire life inside a luxury hotel.
Wanted: Books About Social Distancing
If you’ve been reading any books about social distancing, quarantines, or exiles, or books inspired by pandemics, please let me know via the comments section below, the contact form on my website, my Twitter account (@terraziporyn), or the Late Last Night Books Facebook page. Please also feel free to share your thoughts on how these books relate to what we’re all experiencing right now.
I’ll share the results in next month’s blog!