In a recent interview, author Emily St. John Mandel is quoted as saying about her own bestselling novel, "I don't know who in their right mind would want to read Station Eleven during a pandemic." Well, I've just read it, and I can tell you why. It's about a traveling orchestra and theatrical company in a post-apocalyptic world, but also about the characters' intertwined lives before, during, and twenty years after a pandemic much worse than the one we're in right now. Those interlocking stories have all the human interest of any good read (I especially enjoyed getting inside the mind of a graphic novelist whose running project gives the novel its title). And the picture of a world in which some people remember electricity and some don't makes you look around ours with new eyes.
Another book I have finally received through interlibrary loan (after requesting it in March—I had the 61st hold on one circulating copy) is Frank M. Snowden's Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (Yale, 2019). In clear language for laymen, it examines the biology, medical treatment, public health response, and cultural impact of pandemics beginning with plague and working right up through sars and Ebola. For the writer of historical fiction, it is full of useful detail and context; and for the average citizen today, it frames questions in ways that help scrutinize covid-19 as a disease and political phenomenon. To read a review, click here.
Advent is the season for meditating on the world's need for healing, and the winter solstice marks the return of lengthening days. What I'm finding is that looking at danger indirectly through fiction or directly through analysis and commentary is a better way to cope than denial or endless escapism. (Not that I'm opposed to retreating into good fiction or art for part of each day!)