As with any major worldwide event, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us loads of new literature on the topic. Earlier this year, The New York Times published this piece about some forthcoming books. And every week since, we’ve seen an increase in new titles being announced. Here are just a few of the excellent books about COVID-19 to put on your radar.
Personally, I’ve been making my way through Albert Camus’s The Plague—did you see this piece in the New York Times from Laura Marris, a literary translator working on a new translation as the coronavirus began its spread?—because WHY NOT TORMENT MYSELF???? It’s simultaneously fascinating and horrifying.
The most moving piece about COVID-19 that I’ve read is by Patricia Lockwood, author of Priestdaddy, who wrote about her experience with the virus for the London Review of Books, aptly titled “Insane after coronavirus?” Seriously, if you only read one piece, make it this one.
But let’s get to the fresh books about COVID-19. We have essays, poetry, and a few anthologies containing both, alongside a picture book.
Books About COVID-19
Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith
If there was anyone I wanted a pandemic essay collection from, it was absolutely Zadie Smith. Intimations is a short batch of essays about living in New York City during lockdown, watching the effects on her neighbors and the nail salon where she used to get massages. It’s all classic Smith—sharp, witty, intelligent, observant, and somehow also soft. One of the final essays, in response to the murder of George Floyd, compares systemic racism to a virus in one of the most poignant pieces I’ve read in a long time. Oh, and Smith reads the audiobook herself, if that’s something you’re into.
And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again: Writers from Around the World on the COVID-19 Pandemic edited by Ilan Stavans
In a stunning anthology from writers, poets, artists, and translators across 30 countries, we get a look at various lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We hear from a father in Paris who tries to protect his young son from fear, protestors in Chile whose activism is halted by the virus, and an ER doctor from New York working long hours and still managing to jog home at the end of their shift. Bonus: A portion of proceeds from And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again will benefit booksellers in need.
Together, Apart by Erin A. Craig, Auriane Desombre, Erin Hahn, Bill Konigsberg, Rachael Lippincott, Brittney Morris, Sajni Patel, Natasha Preston, and Jennifer Yen (Oct. 20, Delacorte Press)
Leave it to young adult authors to put together a hopeful anthology of contemporary love stories set during life in lockdown. From a cute pizza delivery boy to TikTok crushes, daily walks to a homemade mask business, Together, Apart offers a lovely look at what the pandemic experience is like for teens.
Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic edited by Alice Quinn (November 17, Knopf Publishing Group)
In the early days of the virus in the United States, Alice Quinn, former New Yorker poetry editor and former director of the Poetry Society of America, started asking poets what they were writing while sheltering in place. And boy, did they deliver. Together in a Sudden Strangeness offers beautiful poems about every fact of life that’s changed in this pandemic: Grief, fear, hope, loneliness, awe, bravery, and everything in between.
How We Live Now: Scenes from the Pandemic by Bill Hayes
Author and photographer Bill Hayes captures raw and beautiful moments of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. From deserted streets, shuttered restaurants, and other changes in this strange new world, he manages to find grace and gratitude. How We Live Now is a deep look at this unprecedented time we’re all living through together.
And the People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara (November 10, Tra Publishing)
Kitty O’Meara has been called the “poet laureate of the pandemic,” and, wow, what a title. One day, she wrote a lovely, thoughtful poem about the pandemic with a focus on hope and optimism. Maybe, while the world is quarantining, the pace of life will slow down and people will learn to enjoy living again. The poem resonated with so many, that And the People Stayed Home is now a picture book coming out later this year.
For more books about COVID-19, check out this list of free children’s books about coronavirus and these picture books about coronavirus procedures. For a more general look at pandemic lit, we’ve got a few: this master list of pandemic literature, and this essay about pandemic lit giving hope. We’ve also been keeping up with COVID-19 updates from the bookish world since March.