Your Coronavirus Reading List: Pandemic Fiction to Read Under Quarantine!

While you’re busy stocking up on canned goods and hand sanitizer (if you can manage to find any!), consider stocking up on these reads too!

stationelevenSTATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel

STATION ELEVEN revolves around the Georgian Flu, a virus that spreads rapidly to become a full-blown pandemic.  Mandel’s novel alternates between the flu outbreak–“Year Zero”–and twenty years later, when a nomadic troupe of actors and musicians travel throughout the Great Lakes region as few survivors remain.  STATION ELEVEN is beloved by many and a National Book Award finalist; with an HBO adaptation expected later this year and Mandel’s follow-up novel coming out later this month, now is the perfect time for a read (or re-read)!

severanceSEVERANCE by Ling Ma

SEVERANCE is one of my absolute favorite novels, and one I cannot recommend enough- I recently chose it as my March staff pick at my bookstore, and it was gone the next day.  Like STATION ELEVEN, Ma’s novel gives us a before-and-after narrative, this time of a virus called Shen Fever, which begins slowly in Asia and erupts worldwide, resulting in devastating loss.  SEVERANCE is less science fiction and more social commentary; Ma speaks to our dependence on technology and our relationship with memory, among many other topics.  An important book no matter the time, SEVERANCE is absolute genius.

zoneoneZONE ONE by Colson Whitehead

I haven’t read ZONE ONE (2011) and it has mixed reviews, but I love Whitehead so I thought I’d include it here!  It’s been described as a literary take on the horror novel, a different approach to genre fiction by a master of literature.  Heavily inspired by Stephen King, ZONE ONE involves a virus that transforms humans into zombies, after which survivors of the virus–called “sweepers”–must patrol New York to make the city inhabitable again.  I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of zombie stories, but, again, this one is told on two timelines, before and after, and supposedly has a pretty killer twist at the end.

thedreamersTHE DREAMERS by Karen Thompson Walker

THE DREAMERS first caught my eye as a Belletrist pick last January.  Walker’s novel starts with a group of young, fatigued college students who fall asleep into a coma-like state without warning, their brain activity signifying intensely vivid dreams.  What follows is mass hysteria that results in quarantine and isolation for the infected.  Just like the current COVID-19 hysteria, THE DREAMERS involves an airborne virus that is especially threatening to schools and nursing homes, a dangerous situation in which quarantine only makes things worse.

Also worth mentioning for the pandemic vibes: (1) Stephen King’s THE STAND, in which a powerful strain of influenza, initially created as biological warfare, releases and kills 99% of the world’s population, and (2) Michael Crichton’s THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, in which a satellite falls to Earth and unleashes an alien virus that threatens to overtake the planet.

Image Credit: Politico/iStock

19 Comments

  1. Literary Elephant

    Wow, so many readers seem to be avoiding these books right now but I am definitely the sort to freak myself out further by reading disturbingly appropriate pandemic books, so I appreciate this list! Zone One is actually the only one I haven’t read yet; I’ve enjoyed the other three quite a bit and have been thinking about them a lot the last couple of weeks. Also, Stephen King’s The Stand is another very apt choice that’s been on my mind. Perhaps I should pick up Zone One to round out my pandemic reading experience!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hannah and Her Books

      I haven’t been able to stop thinking about SEVERANCE! Clearly this post was written a bit ago before the virus evolved into quite a serious pandemic, so, yeah, it’s definitely understandable that people are avoiding these books now! I’m seeking out more comforting, escapist reads myself, but I know some people like to feed into the hysteria.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Literary Elephant

        Ah yes, this has all escalated quite quickly, even a week ago it wouldn’t have seemed so hard to pick up some of these books. And to be clear, I would definitely just pick a *token* pandemic book and then reach for more comforting titles as well! I am the “read a scary book alone in the dark” type, but there is certainly a limit!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hannah and Her Books

        I think if I read any of these now, I would just feel more panicked, LOL! I’d definitely be interested to see what you think of ZONE ONE, though, because I haven’t read that one yet. For me, I’m diving into a re-read of Harry Potter (my first in years!), because focusing on something new is proving to be too difficult nowadays.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Literary Elephant

        No shame, I think a lot of readers are feeling that way! I’ve always been very good at compartmentalizing but this is definitely a strange and scary time. I hope you have a great time with Harry Potter! It’s been a long time since I’ve read that series as well and I’ve also been thinking about doing a reread in the near future; that’s definitely a comforting and familiar world to immerse yourself in at a time like this.

        Liked by 1 person

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