The COVD-19 pandemic and its aftermath are the focus of many new books: NPR
The COVD-19 pandemic and its aftermath are the focus of many new books: NPR

The COVD-19 pandemic and its aftermath are the focus of many new books: NPR

Meghan Collins Sullivan / NPR

A collection of pandemic-related literature.

Meghan Collins Sullivan / NPR

Nearly two years after the start of COVID-19 protocols for social distancing and shutdowns, the pandemic is still something we think about – and live with – on a daily basis. Its constant presence and the way it has changed our world has influenced everything, including literature.

I, as I am sure many others, had no interest in reading books on ailments in general or on how we handled COVID-19 more specifically over the last two years. But as this pandemic looks set to eventually turn into an epidemic or endemic, I’m starting to free myself up to read about these topics in addition to daily news – and start looking back and forth with literature that either mentions COVID-19 or has it a central element in its narrative. And from the many books coming out this year, it seems that others have it too (or at least the publishers think they have!).

Pandemic fiction and non-fiction began to seep into our libraries and bookstores more quickly in the second half of 2021 and have since found a growing presence. We have seen novels like Louise Erdrichs The sentence, Catherine Ryan Howards 56 daysAmitava Kumars A time outside this timeand Sarah Halls Burnt coat. There have also been anthologies like COVID Chronicles: A comic book anthology, Lockdown: Stories of crime, terror and hope during a pandemicand And we came outside and saw the stars again: Writers from around the world about the Covid-19 pandemic (the latter two of these actually came out in 2020). Everyone addresses the pandemic directly and talks about how it has affected our lives, relationships, plans and productivity.

Still, it was Kristen Radtkes Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness – exploring the way in which loneliness and the forced seclusion that came with the pandemic affected us – in mid-2021, it suggested that pandemic writing could offer us a map to begin dealing with the consequences of what has happened, as well as its lingering effects and persistent presence.

And the first two months of 2022 have made it clear that COVID as a theme in both fiction and non-fiction has come to stay – at least so far. Peter S. Goodmans Davos mand out in January, for example, at home in how the impact of billionaires like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, JPMorgan Chases Jamie Dimon, Blackstone Groups Stephen Schwarzman and BlackRock’s Larry Fink affect the world – but it also discusses how they became much richer during the pandemic. And we have seen several transient references to pandemics, such as in Kim Fu’s Lesser known monsters from the 21st and in Hanya Yanagihara To Paradisewhich includes a section that took place in 2093 – a time when there are various plagues around the world.

Men Laura Kipnis’ Love in the age of infection and Margaret Peacock and Erik L. Petersons A Deeper Sickness: Journal of America in the Pandemic Year may be the two books that really announce the arrival of literature with a central goal of helping us understand the psychology of the pandemic, as it relates to relationships and dealings with each other, in the case of the former, and understanding the pandemic in a political , social and cultural context in the latter case.

Peacock, a professor of media and propaganda at the University of Alabama, and Peterson, a professor of science and history at the same institution, took notes on everything that happened in the news as well as on social media during 2020. The result is a book, presenting these notes as a day-by-day journal and showing that there were already things underway – things like racial tensions and the opioid epidemic – that helped make the pandemic even worse. The book, which is both an alarm and a call for timely call for action, ultimately mentions three factors that the authors believe made America a much “sicker” place than it should have been in 2020: “(a) anchored racial hierarchies (b) an economic structure dependent on the individual accumulation of wealth and widespread consumption of volatile goods and entertainment; (c) distraction, cognitive dissonance, and an intentional historical memory loss that prevented the majority of comfortable, well-meaning, middle-class, white Americans eg ourselves from doing something about the first two problems. “

If Peacock and Petersen focus on the country as a whole, Kipnis looks at the problem in your own home, a much more immediate, personal place.

“If you are reading this, you have recently survived a massive worldwide extermination event, congratulations,” she writes to start Love in the age of infection. Then it immediately tackles the anger that has been a “normal” part of life:

“Get a nice big dose of remaining smoldering rage (so great for the immune system!) Over being abandoned by our ‘leaders’, over profiteers and incompetent and liars, over a clever killer microscopic device that wants to exploit you as a host and strip your organs for parts. Along with grief over all that was lost. About all that was lost. “

The Kipnis book is about the way we change as quickly as the virus itself, how things like narcissism – which she claims was also a pandemic even before COVID – and other “unhealthy dynamics” rot in relation to the core, and how to spend more time in the company of our partners has become something completely different in the last two years. “It’s not just viruses that mutate, we do too,” says Kipnis – and these changes were not good.

When things get dark, we are told that love always helps, but what happens when love begins to fail because of the darkness? Love in the age of infection is a fun and incredibly timely study of what the pandemic has done to our relationship and our ability to love. At the heart of the book is the idea that the pandemic revealed a lot of ugly truths about our nation, but that it did the same for our relationship:

“Recently, I asked a shrink, I know, if she had noticed any themes among her patients during the COVID era. She said everyone had a fantasy that other people were better off. The singles envied the couples, the couples envied the singles, the people with children envied people without children, etc. All her patients had gone back in different ways, which I fully understood (means “completely identified with.”) Between the COVID lockdown and the fluctuating government reaction, it was like being locked inside your “bedroom with a sibling, while an insanely violent parent rumbles in the living room and does shit and changes the story. Everyone felt deprived of something significant,” said my shrunken friend. There was so much loneliness, no less among the couple. “

Love in the age of infection can offer a plan for an entire series: Work in the time of infection, Loss in the time of infection, Trauma in the time of infection Anger in the time of infection, Horror in the time of infection Friendship in the time of infection, etc. Somehow it seems that all of these, and many more, are coming.

Of course, we tend to stay away from things we find unpleasant, and there’s a chance that pandemic literature hits some readers just like that. But the stories we have seen so far have shown that the pandemic can be a starting point for any story – and that writing about it can be a way to process trauma, an exercise in trying to understand its impact on our psyche. This literature can add to a growing map of work that helps us navigate not only recent history but also our present and immediate future.

Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

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