During a crisis, some people like to engage with fiction akin to their current situation. If that is you, here are some books you may enjoy. I have included all the titles in this post, plus a few more, in this list, opens a new window.
Let's start with speculative fiction about fictional plagues. My favorite novel of 2019 was “A Song for A New Day, opens a new window” by Sarah Pinsker, opens a new window. It presents a believable dystopia where large public gatherings are banned following virus outbreaks and terror attacks. Complex characters invest readers in this oddly hopeful story. “The Stand”, opens a new window by Stephen King is an atmospheric and creepy tale of survival after a pandemic wipes out most of humanity. If zombies are more your speed, “World War Z”, opens a new window by Max Brooks, opens a new window is a bleak and fast-paced oral history of the zombie apocalypse.
Moving on from fictional plagues, here are some books about real historical diseases, starting with the Black Death in late Medieval Europe. “Doomsday Book”, opens a new window by Connie Willis, opens a new window is a compelling and bleak account of an Oxford student from the year 2054 travelling back in time to Europe during the bubonic plague, while an influenza epidemic is raging in her own time. “The Black Death: A Personal History, opens a new window by John Hatcher, opens a new window is a work of historical fiction by an actual historian that captures the uncertainty and fear of everyday English villagers during the plague. “World Without End”, opens a new window by Ken Follett, opens a new window is a sweeping and intricately-plotted historical epic about the era of the plague and the War of the Roses.
Moving forward in time, the historic plague that has been on my mind the most during the current crisis is the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, also known as the Spanish Flu. “The Meaning of Names”, opens a new window by Karen Gettert Shoemaker, opens a new window tells a haunting tale of German immigrants in Nebraska who are facing prejudice in the wake of World War I, as fear and superstition builds amid the arriving pandemic. “, opens a new windowA Beautiful Poison”, opens a new window by Lydia Kang, opens a new window is a mystery set in a richly-detailed New York during the flu, where a series of deaths are accompanied by a strange note. “This Time of Dying, opens a new window” by Reina James, opens a new window is a psychological character study about an undertaker who develops a fear of death, in a time of seeing a lot of it.
I hope everyone is doing their best to stay safe and healthy during this time. Seeing fictional characters respond to something that is worse than our current situation may help you feel better. Good luck and enjoy your reading.