by Collection Management Librarian Dontaná McPherson-Joseph
From the plague to the 1918 influenza to now, pandemics have been unwelcome members of society. Touching everyone and everything, global sickness and the changes we have to make to get through makes us anxious and sends us looking for an escape.
No wonder we turn to fiction that explores pandemics and society’s response. While you won’t find The Walking Dead on this list, you will find novels and short stories that explore how we’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.
Want more? Check out our suggestions from 2020 »
Pandemic novels & short stories
Why you should try it: These stories from the early days of the pandemic vary wildly, much like our individual experiences of that time.
Description: Presents a collection of short stories originally commissioned by The New York Times Magazine as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, from 29 authors—including Margaret Atwood, Tommy Orange, Edwidge Danticat, and more—in a project inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron.
An Eternal Lei by Naomi Hirahara
Why you should try it: How is a closed-to-tourism island mystery like a locked-room mystery? Read this book to find out.
Description: Leilani Santiago finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation that endangers her family and friends after saving a mysterious woman wearing a lei from drowning in Waimea Bay. She must learn of this woman’s identity and connections to others on the island to save herself and those dearest to her.
Companion Piece by Ali Smith
Why you should try it: If you loved Smith's Seasonal quartet, then this standalone follow-up is for you.
Description: A vital celebration of companionship in all its timeless and contemporary, legendary and unpindownable, spellbinding and shape-shifting forms that boldly captures the spirit of the times.
Just the Two of Us by Jo Wilde
Why you should try it: The couple at the center of this heartwarming romance, like so many of us, also faced a relationship reckoning brought on by spending every waking—and sleeping—moment with our partners.
Description: A couple on the brink of divorce after 35 years of marriage gets a second chance to rediscover their love now that a pandemic lockdown has forced them to spend more time together.
Violeta by Isabel Allende
Why you should try it: This historical novel offers a unique view of both COVID-19 and the 1918 Influenza, narrated by a woman who experienced both of them and everything in between.
Description: Living out her days in a remote part of her South American homeland, Violeta finds her life shaped by some of the most important events of history as she tells her story in the form of a letter to someone she loves above all others.
The Fell by Sarah Moss
Why you should try it: This suspenseful and lyrical novel, told from multiple perspectives, examines the different ways restlessness can manifest.
Description: In the middle of a two-week mandatory quarantine period, Kate secretly slips out of her house for a walk on the moors, but what was supposed to be a quick outing turns into a fight for survival when she falls, injured and unable to move.
Panpocalypse by Carley Moore
Why you should try it: This piece of autobiographical fiction is a deeply personal and intimate look at feelings of loneliness amplified by the pandemic.
Description: In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a queer disabled woman bikes through a locked-down New York City for the ex-girlfriend who broke her heart.
Life Without Children: Stories by Roddy Doyle
Why you should try it: The total and uninterrupted time we spent with ourselves and our families changed how we relate to others. These stories explore those changes.
Description: Love and marriage. Children and family. Death and grief. Life touches everyone the same. But living under lockdown, it changes us alone. A man abroad wanders the stag-and-hen-strewn streets of Newcastle, as news of the virus at home asks him to question his next move. An exhausted nurse struggles to let go, having lost a much-loved patient in isolation. A middle-aged son, barred from his mother’s funeral, wakes to an oncoming hangover of regret.
Dontaná is a Collection Management Librarian who was born with an unending reading list. She is almost always reading two books simultaneously and is easily distracted by cool covers.