Luckily, books still exist, and can be their own vehicle for connection. And what better reading material for right now than books where the characters are, in some way, alone? None of these are dystopian (at least not in the traditional sense), but are instead characterized by protagonists with complex interior lives who are either isolated (in some way that’s not about a contagion) or fiercely independent, or both.
During this febrile period, I’ve found myself longing for a different kind of timeframe, in which it would be possible both to feel and to think, to process the intense impact of the news and perhaps even to imagine other ways of being. The stopped time of a painting, say, or the dilations of the novel, in which it is possible to see patterns and consequences that are otherwise invisible. Art has begun to feel not like a respite or an escape, but a formidable tool for gaining perspective on what are increasingly troubled times.
In the Paris Review, J. Hoberman looks at cinematic representations of plagues, including The Plague by Albert Camus and Contagion by Steven Soderbergh.
From Homer’s Iliad and Boccaccio’s Decameron to Stephen King’s The Stand and Ling Ma’s Severance, stories about pandemics have – over the history of Western literature such as it is – offered much in the way of catharsis, ways of processing strong emotion, and political commentary on how human beings respond to public health crises.
I live in the greater metropolitan Seattle area, which was the first site of infection of COVID-19 in the United States. This was therefore one of the first areas to cancel in-person classes and move to online education and to encourage remote working for non-essential employees.
With all these additional people online during the day, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the length of time web pages take to load. Of course things were worse back in the first days of modems and dial-up internet, but still . . . . The New York Times reports on this issue with a more national focus.
Molly Odintz, senior editor for CrimeReads, explains why she’s taking refuge in reading Scandinavian thrillers:
Not because thrillers are low-brow. They take immense thought to create. But they don’t—and this is key—take commensurate mental energy to consume. They are the kindest art form, because they do the work for the consumer, allowing us a break from fretting about our very real woes so that we can worry, safely, for the fates of fictional characters instead.
If fantasy is more your choice for light reading, Nicole Hill has you covered with this list.
More suggestions, these from Ken Liu, winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards.
Jonny Diamond reports on how to support local bookstores, which are suffering from lack of sales while people aren’t going out shopping. (See my article Life in an Independent Bookstore Near Seattle.)
“Publishers, bookstores and authors are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout from the unfolding coronavirus crisis.”
two novelists, Caroline Leavitt and Jenna Blum, are promoting their colleagues with an ambitious initiative called A Mighty Blaze. Anyone can participate in the conversations on A Mighty Blaze on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram about new releases, but for authors wanting their books to be signal boosted on these platforms, there are a few requirements: the book has to be traditionally published for adult readers, and the author’s book tour has to have been canceled.
“As a result of the new coronavirus crisis, sales at downloadable audiobookstore Libro.fm and online Bookshop.org have soared. Both digital stores collaborate with independent booksellers and return a share of the sales back to them.”
“Read and discuss War and Peace with Yiyun Li and A Public Space. Starting March 18, join us for a free virtual book club—a moment each day when we can gather together as a community. #TolstoyTogether.”
This list is from Teen Vogue, but the books are decidedly grown-up (for example, Steinbeck’s East of Eden).
In order to encourage reading and classroom read-aloud experiences, and to support schools and public libraries forced to close by the escalating COVID-19 outbreak, Penguin Random House is permitting teachers, librarians and booksellers to create and share story time and read-aloud videos and live events, according to the following guidelines:
Since such presentations normally violate copyright law, Ron Charles of the Washington Post calls this “a generous offer.” If you plan to take advantage of the offer, be sure to read all the guidelines, including the one about later removing the presentation from the social platform’s archives.
Prolonged travel restrictions and venue closings leave some people craving artistic and cultural stimulation. Many organizations are satisfying those desires.
This article is from 2016, but the links still work.
“The Met’s executives say the coronavirus outbreak makes painful layoffs likely for every cultural institution.”
As film crews have quickly shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a domino effect has befallen Hollywood’s working class. A range of people from actors to lighting directors, drivers and grips to administrators, painters, hair stylists and caterers, now suddenly find themselves out of work.
From film critic Richard Brody:
I’m picking up on a search for substance, for movies that have the settled and solid quality of classics (despite the narrow assumptions on which such classicism is based)—movies serious enough for the mood, compelling enough to provide ready distraction, and confident enough to look beyond the troubles that they evoke. Here are some of the movies that I’ve been grateful to watch in the past few stressful days.
“Here are some suggestions from New Yorker writers and artists to ease the stress of isolation.”
Recommendations for TV, movies, podcasts, books, and streaming content to keep yourself occupied.
A look at how quarantine helped prevent disease in these 19th century novels, when there were no other options for handling epidemics.
Because sometimes all you can do is laugh. Example:
Pride and Prejudice
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be hoarding toilet paper.
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown