The long-term effects of COVID-19, physical, mental, and emotional, are unknown to us. The pandemic fundamentally changed the way many of us live and view life. As the world tries to come to grips with this change, many of us seek the knowledge and wisdom required to make sense of all that’s happening around us. As former US President Barack Obama said, “Reading is the gateway skill that makes all other learning possible.” We present a reading list that might help you gain the insight you’re looking for.
- The Plague by Albert Camus
Published in 1947, the story shows how the bubonic plague upturned the lives of many in the town of Oran. It follows the journey of the main character Dr. Bernard Rieux and his wife, and deals with the themes of separation, loss, helplessness, and monotony. There is commentary on the delayed and inefficient response of the town’s authorities, that cost the lives of many. The story follows the characters through curfews, travel bans, and violence. Several themes that the book deals with sound familiar in the COVID-19 landscape. This book was sold out after the pandemic started and its sales shot up manifold in comparison to the year before.
- The Decameron by Giovanni Boccacio
This book is a collection of 100 stories from 14th century Italy. These stories are narrated by seven women and three men staying together in a villa outside Florence to escape the bubonic plague. They cover a range of emotions from comedy to tragedy and bring out the life lessons learnt while isolating together, trying to escape the disease. The book was originally written in Florentine Italian. However, it has been translated into several languages whose copies are readily available online.
As a result of social distancing, many of us faced feelings of loneliness and had to learn how to cope with solitude. The following books cover these themes in-depth and with nuance.
- Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T Cacioppo and William Patrick
This book, published in 2009, became a pioneering work in establishing loneliness as a neurological and social concern. It approached loneliness from a scientific perspective and discussed its physical ramifications, including the effect on the neural networks and the immune system. A lesson that comes out clearly through the book – how important social connections are and how we need to manage them well.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Published in 1818, this book was one of the first few written works in history to identify the concept of loneliness. It explored the theme of social disconnect and raised concerns about social alienation and the exploitation of nature. This was written at a time when the concept of loneliness was just about surfacing. Though popular as ‘science fiction’ and even ‘horror writing’, it’s a tale dealing with ideas of profound grief, guilt, life, and death.
If you are wondering whether to read any of these works, we leave you with the words of Alberto Manguel, “Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.”