Pandemic Books Are About Survival
Right now I’m addicted to movies about pandemics.
I’m not alone: According to the Business Insider, the 1995 movie “Outbreak” was the ninth most popular title on Netflix this week – and the 4th most popular movie.
The problem with most movies about pandemics is that quite frankly – they’re stupid. The science is BS, the characters are ridiculously one-dimensional and the dialogue is pretty ropy.
However, there are HEAPS of great books centered around pandemics. Some are historical, based on actual facts – yes, facts, ladies and gentlemen. Such things do exist, much as our beloved leaders may inform us otherwise.
Pandemics Aren’t New
A slight digression here: I called my father the other day. He’s just over 80, full of ‘pre-existing conditions’ whatever that means, and lives alone.
“Are you worried?” I asked.
“Worried? Not really.”
At first, I thought this was just Dad being his usual stoic-self. But then I realized that this isn’t his first pandemic-rodeo.
Back when my father was young, the schools were closed because of a polio outbreak. (I wonder how my grandmother found this!?) Our ancestors were familiar with disease. My grandfather returned from WW1 right into the Spanish Flu. My grandfather’s grandfather (lots of great-greats there!) died of typhoid in the late 1800s. Disease has always been with us. But we humans forget so fast.
It was widespread, alarming, and then it suddenly all vanished. And by the next year, we’d almost forgotten…Alistair Cooke on BBC World History, recounting his memories of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic
9 Great Pandemic Reads About Survivors
Please find below a list of great reads, featuring both pandemics and – get this, folks: SURVIVORS. Because that’s the thing about pandemics. People do survive. Life goes on.
About this list: it’s based in no particular order. But all the stories here are particularly well-written, exciting and (in general) highly escapist. Some are deeply thought-provoking: some just keep you turning the page.
Hope you enjoy.
Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
Note: these links are Amazon Affiliate links, so I may gain a small commission if you purchase.
The Doomsday Book is one of my all-time favorite sci-fiction novels. Winner of BOTH the Hugo and Nebula Awards, this is a wonderful read.
Doomsday Book is set in a recognizable future where scientists at Oxford University, England, have discovered time travel. Historians can travel into the period they’re researching. But not all periods are safe, and until now, the 1300s have been off-limits.
But scholar Kivrin determined to visit the period before the Black Death, finally persuades her supervisor to allow her travel. Fatally though, just as she completes the jump back in time, the flu strikes Oxford, and there’s a disastrous error in her co-ordinates …
The narrative jumps back and forth, between present-day Oxford and the Middle-Ages past. The novel explores the nature of love, the purpose of humanity; the importance of faith. It is truly a wonderful read.
As a bonus, Doomsday Book is really, really long. So if you’re stuck in self-isolation, this will definitely keep you occupied.
Extra bonus: Willis’ other stories of the time-travelers at the Department of History, Oxford.
The Passage Trilogy – Justin Cronin
The story of Amy, the most important girl, and how the world changed … The Passage is a story about vampires, plague and survival. Almost operatic in scale, with a diverse, exciting cast of characters, the story starts before the plague begins, and ends with the dawning of a new age.
The Passage is amazingly fun to read, but be warned: each of the trilogy’s three novels is very, very long. Don’t be ashamed if you end up skimming.
(Amazon tells me it’s also a series on Fox – but as the trailer looks pretty sh*t, it’s not surprising that there was only one season. Stick to the books: they’re way better. )
The Girl With All The Gifts – M R Carey
Melanie is a very special girl. Her teachers call her “our little genius.”
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointed at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. When she jokes that she won’t bite, they don’t laugh.
Written by the extraordinarily gifted MR Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts is much, much more than a fast-paced zombie thriller. It’s a tale about endurance in a world gone mad, and the courage it takes to save a child. There’s also a sequel: The Boy on the Bridge.
Girl was made into a (disappointing) movie in 2016. It’s okay to watch, but as usual, the book is better.
Station Eleven is a masterpiece.
Opening with the sudden death of once-great movie star Arthur Leander, the Station Eleven plays out against the backdrop of a devastating flu pandemic. The narrative moves from one time-line to another; threading the future to the past as we follow a group of traveling players as they traverse the midwest, performing Shakespeare against the eerie backdrop of civilization’s collapse.
Station Eleven is more than a disaster novel: it’s a story about the strength of the human spirit and the transformative power of art. It is also brilliant. Read it.
I am Legend – Richard Matheson
Love in The Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I included Love in the Time of Cholera because I mean, that title!
Personally I didn’t love the book. In fact, I’ve pretty much forgotten what happens! (Wikipedia tells me that it’s about unrequited love and a second-chance romance.) So if you like that sort of thing, knock yourself out. It’s been made into a movie, too.
A Journal Of The Plague Year (Written By a Citizen Who Continued All The While In London) – Daniel Dafoe
Published in 1722, Journal purports to be an eye-witness account of the 1665 outbreak of Bubonic Plague. (Actually, it’s probably not autobiographical, as Dafoe was only 5 in 1665. But Dafoe, who also wrote Robinson Crusoe, is a brilliant story-teller, so don’t let that stop you).
Full disclosure: I’ve not read Journal yet, but here’s a great article from The Guardian if you want to find out more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/13/plague-coronavirus-british-panic-buying
The Breakers – Edward W. Robertson
The Breakers Series: If you thought the pandemic is bad, just wait until the aliens arrive.
The Breakers is good old-fashioned excitement. It should be made into a movie. Robertson’s written 6 books in the Breakers series, so if you enjoy fast-paced action, this series is definitely for you
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
After all this heavy apocalyptic fare, chances are you’ll need a light and frothy dessert. Fear not, my friends – here it is!
Where’s the connection with pandemics, you ask? Don’t you remember the Golgafrinchams?
It was the absence of Golgarfincham’s telephone sanitizers (those same sanitizers that were encountered by Arthur Dent in the first book of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), that ended Golgafrinchim’s civilization: the entire planet was wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.
It’s taken me nearly two hours to write this blog post, and all the while I’ve been worrying that this content could be too much for folk in quarantine, or for those desperately concerned about family or friends.
Sometimes it’s better to escape; to forget the pandemic. I get that totally. Just don’t forget that if it’s escapism you want, book is always best!
Feel free to check out these blog posts for links to other great, escapist and light-hearted reads.
And wherever you are, stay safe.