Friday, January 7, 2022

Covid Reading

Back in the spring and early summer of 2020 when it started to become clear that we would be in staying home for far longer than two weeks, I wondered how the pandemic would play out in books. Would authors simply ignore it and keep writing their usual fare? Because writers were living under the same conditions that readers were, it began to feel like the subject might be difficult to avoid.

Ali Smith's Summer was published in August of 2020, and she included quarantine life. As it was the fourth in her seasonal series and presumably in progress, I think it would have been difficult to write about the state of the nation and leave out covid and lockdown.

"In the present, Sacha knows the world's in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile the world's in meltdown - and the real meltdown hasn't even started yet."

In December of last year, I read the covid memoir, What Just Happened by Charles Finch. It was a library book and I figured why not? The answer to that question is because it's a covid memoir, something that all of us could have written ourselves. Covid memoirs are just not for me.

Because I hadn't completely learned my lesson, I also read Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult. It's a full-on pandemic novel, with the whole story revolving around covid. The author had an original take on things, but I decided that covid fiction was also not for me. 

Despite swearing that I would not, could not, read any more about the pandemic, there is only one author that I was willing to make an exception for. Sarah Moss wrote The Fell, and all I knew was that coronavirus played a part. After getting a copy through Netgalley and reading it in a day, I was thrilled to find that the author had written a completely original take on covid. It was simply great fiction and not covid fiction. 
A two-week quarantine sets the stage for the story of Kate, and several other characters contribute their perspectives on the feelings of claustrophobia, isolation, vulnerability, and the almost overwhelming uncertainty that we have all felt for several years. Sarah Moss has written much of this book in an internal, stream-of-consciousness way, which I appreciated because it seemed to closely match my thinking. There are daily details along with larger philosophical questions. The story takes place over a single day with interesting chapter titles, and as always, Moss' thoughtful prose is a joy to read. In my opinion, this is one book that is not solely about covid, but so much more, and a very worthwhile read. 

I have considered several books about the development of the vaccine, like The First Shots or A Shot to Save the World, but while these might be interesting, I think I have finally learned my lesson and won't be doing any more covid reading for a while. We're all living it every day, so this isn't something I want to read any more about. 

So how about you? Have you done any covid reading, fiction or nonfiction, or do you think you might in the future? Or are you smarter than I was and avoiding it? 


Also, our discussion of Matrix will be next Tuesday, January 11. Carole, Kym, and I will each post a question on our blogs that day, and then we will have a Zoom discussion at 7:00 pm that evening. You can send me an email (email address is in the upper right) to RSVP and I will make sure you get an invitation with the Zoom link. I hope you'll Read and Discuss With Us!


  1. I think, if you're someone who reads for entertainment and escape, that covid fiction would be really challenging. I'm glad you enjoyed the new Sarah Moss, I know how much you like her writing.

  2. Nope! No Covid reading for me. I tried a Sarah Moss book but just could not get into it. I know you and others enjoy her writing, and I'm glad you liked "The Fell."

  3. Like you, I have tried to read some Covid fiction, but I haven't finished most of them. I read for entertainment and/or new information, and there is none of that in the Covid fiction I have found. So many writers cannot seem to disconnect from it. I find that interesting since most fiction writers usually write about something that has nothing to do with their lives. So, I have really struggled to find things that fit the profile of what I want to read. I hope there is some new fiction coming out this year that has absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic!

  4. I think the only book I've read that was specifically about COVID was The Sentence, and I thought Erdrich handled it well -- it's set during the pandemic, but it's not really ABOUT the pandemic. I also read Station Eleven early on, but that's not really about COVID specifically (though I know many people didn't want to touch anything about any kind of pandemic). I am not going out of my way to find books to read about the current pandemic, but I understand that realistic fiction set in the present day might have it as a plot point.

  5. I would imagine Sarah Moss would write about quarantine in the BEST of ways! I'm looking forward to reading The Fell. :-) I haven't really done any intentional Covid reading, although I did read The Sentence, and it is set during the pre-vaccine period of Covid. Louise Erdrich does a great job weaving Covid into the plot, and really captured the uncertainty and shock of those early pandemic days. It was quite realistic but not gratuitous. I'm not going out of my way to find Covid reading . . .

  6. I read (and loved) Ali Smith's Summer. AND!! I just got approved for The Fell... and I am even more excited after reading your thoughts on the book. I also read The Sentence, which I also loved and it might be my favorite Erdrich book ever!

    Personally, I think these "covid" books helped me... it was helpful to read about people in the same circumstances I am in. I am not "shying away" from covid stories, but they have to be told in the right way! (And I think that reading about vaccine discovery would be a very good thing since I am so profoundly grateful for them!)

  7. Since I read very few books in general, this is not a theme/subject I would seek out... unless there were off-the-chart reviews from every book person that I know/trust!

  8. I don't know if I could read covid like fiction but knowing me I would get into it and see similarities!

  9. The only work of fiction I've read related to the pandemic is The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, the book is not about the pandemic, but the effects of the pandemic are woven into the story in a way that I really enjoyed. I am not intentionally looking to read covid stories, but I'm not shying away from them either.
    I'm glad you enjoyed the Sarah Moss book!

    1. I think I enjoy books like The Sentence - where the pandemic figures into the story but isn't the whole story. That's how The Fell was for me and I thought it was great.

  10. I haven't read any Covid fiction, but I haven't avoided it either.

    I think I will have to put The Fell on my reading list.

  11. I loved The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny. It is set in a post pandemic world and Covid is not mentioned as the name of the virus so it is a minimal player in the novel. Have you read it? I have mot tried any of Moss' work but I might try The Fell based on your recommendation stream of conscious type of writing sometimes appeals to me. In five years, the historical information and perspective might be interesting.


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