During this unsure time, we’re all looking to expand our minds with more reading material. It doesn’t always need to be a form of escapism, though. Here are some books about plagues – for entertainment and knowledge!
1. ‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright (2020)
The End of October is a fiction novel by Pulitzer prize winning author Lawrence Wright. It tells the very relevant story of a devastating pandemic that sweeps the entire planet, leaving millions dead. Published in April 2020, Lawrence began writing the novel before the news of Coronavirus shook the world. The similarities are eerie. In The End of October, an unknown virus similar to the flu puzzles doctors, and is spreading rapidly, with a high chance of death to those who become infected. In the early stages, doctors are adamant that borders be closed and all travel be halted to limit dangerous spreading, only to be protested highly by rulers who worry about the state of the economy. (The only unfortunate difference is that in the book, the president and vice president both become infected). The plot feels somewhat like a mystery novel, with readers following the journey of a reliable and ethical narrator, Henry Parsons the pathologist, as he attempts to uncover dark secrets and makes drastic efforts to solve a complicated case. Only this time, the existence of civilization is on the line.
2. ‘The Great Influenza’ by John M. Barry (2004)
This nonfiction novel covers the story of the deadliest pandemic in history, the 1918 flu. In the novel, Barry focuses on how humans ultimately became triumphant in the battle due to the phenomenon of modern science and medicine, something that wasn’t always on our side during previous plagues. Although it was published in 2004, it is no coincidence that it is currently at the top of The New York Times Bestsellers List. It is apparent that many are looking for something thrilling and relevant to scratch their reading itch. Reaching 546 pages, The Great Influenza is a thorough and fascinating historical approach for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge and inform themselves during these desperate times.
3. ‘Oryx and Crake’ by Margaret Atwood (2003)
Written by the same author who penned the dark but necessary Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake is an adventurous dystopian novel that warns us about the dangers of technology. It follows the story of a young protagonist called Snowman, who is alone in his world except for the existence of creatures called Crakes. A global pandemic begins to spread, wiping out the human race after a drug that causes sterilization is released into the general public. Intense but enticing, Oryx and Crake covers topics such as genetic experimentation and pharmaceutical engineering. It explores themes of human connection and the value of autonomy.
4. ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985)
With a self explanatory title, this romance novel tells the story of two lovers coping during dark and desperate times. Translated from Spanish by a Nobel Prize winning author, the novel traces the lives of two young characters, Florentino and Fermina, in a Romeo and Juliet-style forbidden love that is condemned by their families. Another prominent character is Dr. Urbino, a highly logical man who has dedicated his life to the research and eradication of Cholera, a deadly and highly contagious disease that spreads through water and causes death via dehydration. Realistic and touching, The book covers themes of modernization, wisdom, and aging. It is a refreshing take for anyone who wishes to read something sentimental during these times.
5. ‘The Stand’ by Stephen King (1978)
Written by perhaps America’s most well known contemporary horror author, The Stand is one of King’s earlier works, and was highly praised by critics, some considering it one of his best novels. It covers the post-apocalyptic tale of an influenza strain that was created by the US government and released by accident, one that wipes out nearly the entirety of humanity. The few remaining humans band together in order to survive. King himself stated that the novel’s plot was inspired by Lord of the Rings, with a determined group getting together to stop an unknown, evil, and powerful force. Written with a plethora of complicated storylines and characters, The Stand is written in the style of magical realism and covers topics such as supernatural powers, death, and destruction. Warning: Not for the faint of heart.
6. ‘The Andromeda Strain’ by Michael Crichton (1969)
Written by the same author who penned Jurassic Park, this sci-fi thriller follows a team of scientists who investigate an outbreak in the United States implemented by aliens. Crichton is known for his tales of human’s fight against supernatural phenomena in nature. Their struggle includes fighting a force that is constantly outsmarting them in an attempt to save the human race. The deadly organism is quiet and stealthy, killing innocent people in what seems to be natural causes from the outside eye. Suspenseful and packed with action, The Andromeda Strain is an exciting read for anyone who wishes to be kept on their toes.
7. ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus (1947)
Translated from French after the height of World War II, The Plague is meant to be an allegory about the Nazis invading Paris. Albert Camus was a Nobel Prize winning philosopher, author, and journalist from France. He is known for his works on nihilism and the human condition. The Plague is similar to The End of October because it is narrated from the perspective of a young doctor, Bernard Rieux, who is fascinated with death and simply wants to help people. Also an Atheist, Rieux does not have the comfort of relying on the thought of a higher power or afterlife to comfort him as he is faced with daily grizzly deaths. Thoughtfully written and gripping at every turn, Camus’ The Plague speaks on how human’s ignorance and selfishness can so casually let a deadly force slip under their radar.