The Lists

The Literature of the Coronavirus Pandemic 2020 is Here

Our list of the best books, novels, essay collections and poems about COVID 19 and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The literature of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic 2020 is here, and these are the best books, novels, essay collections and poems written (so far) during the time of mandatory social distance and shelter in place edicts. They’re an essential part of the first draft of a history that will be written and re-written for decades. Which of these resonates most deeply for you and your experience of this COVID-19 era?

the best literature (so far) of the coronavirus pandemic 2020

The first wave of nonfiction accounts of the origin and the spread of COVID-19 and the global coronavirus pandemic are already here, which is not a great surprise. Newspapers are famously “the first draft of history,” but in our modern times the authoritative non-fiction book is never far behind.

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If you need proof, grab a copy of Fang Fang’s plague journal Wuhan Diary. Or Debora MacKenzie’s Covid-19: The Pandemic That Never Should Have Happened. Both were in print before the first coronavirus vaccines were even announced.

We’ve been pondering another question here at Dandelion Chandelier, though: what about the literature of the coronavirus pandemic?

The literature of the coronavirus pandemic: the best books, novels, essay collections and poems about life during COVID 19.

The literature of the coronavirus pandemic: the best books, novels, essay collections and poems about life during COVID-19.

too soon for the literature of the coronavirus pandemic?

Is it too soon to write essays, poems and even novels about the COVID-19 pandemic, the effect that the coronavirus epidemic has had on the world and on each of us as individuals, and the toll of social distancing and isolation?

Is it too soon to write of the losses suffered? To try to make narrative sense of the deep grieving over lives lost – but also the loss of jobs, the beloved restaurants and bars, of favorite bookstores, and the sense of security that we once took for granted? Is it too early to portray the fear, the survivor’s guilt, the pity, the anger and the sadness?

Our list of the best books, novels, essay collections and poems about COVID 19 and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Our list of the best literature, including books, novels, essay collections and poems, about COVID-19 and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

literature is vital means of bearing witness

The most gifted and courageous artists among us are fearless about this matter: they’ve been writing, composing, recording, painting, and photographing since this pandemic began. They have already compiled a first draft of the history of this era of their own in words, images and songs.

And it may be their contributions that actually have the most lasting impact. We’ve read several news stories recently about how the vivid memories of the losses of World War I were due in no small part to the extensive and brilliant literature of the Great War.

Whereas the Spanish Flu of 1918, happening immediately after, received almost no notice by contemporary novelists and poets of that time. And perhaps as a result faded from the popular memory rather quickly.

The literature of the coronavirus pandemic: the best books, novels, essay collections and poems about life during COVID 19.

The literature of the coronavirus pandemic: the best books, novels, essay collections and poems about life during COVID-19.

what does the first wave of coronavirus pandemic literature offer us?

So, while the COVID-19 era is still fresh – still raw – in fact, while this crisis is still unfolding all around us, we decided to take stock of the literature of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Here are the books, novels, poems and essay collections of the COVID-19 era (so far) that meet this particular moment with grace, insight and urgency.

The best literature (so far) of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

novels, poems and essays about the COVID-19 pandemic

Here are 9 entries in the genre of “COVID” novels, poems and essay collections about life around the world during the coronavirus pandemic and living in quarantine for long stretches of 2020. It’s the best literature (so far) of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

1. Summer by Ali Smith.

 

In a remarkable show of agility, novelist Ali Smith managed to incorporate the coronavirus pandemic seamlessly into the final installment of her Seasonal Quartet, Summer. It’s done with such a light touch that it’s not really noticeable. It’s not a “COVID novel” – it’s a luminous tale that just happens to unfold when the pandemic was in its early stages in Western Europe.

This novel has a great deal to say about many things – but like its sisters in the quartet, its beating heart is about connection, community and caring for each other and the planet. May all of the entries in the literature of the coronavirus pandemic that are still to come be as graceful, intelligent and urgent as this one.

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2. Together in a Sudden Strangeness, edited by Alice Quinn.

 

In Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, 107 poets – including Julia Alvarez, Billy Collins, Ada Limón, Tommy Orange, Claudia Rankine, Vijay Seshadri and Jeffrey Yang – share work written during the pandemic. Alice Quinn, a former New Yorker poetry editor and former director of the Poetry Society of America, reached out to her network and the result is this compilation of American voices during quarantine.

We received this book as a Christmas present, and it was what sparked our interest in learning more about the response of writers to the COVID-19 pandemic. It turns out that the best literature (so far) of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is dominated by poetry. And perhaps that’s not a surprise. Something still so fresh and shocking can perhaps only be captured in fragments and images that provoke us to see the world through a different lens – to peer more closely. To notice.

3. Four Quartets, edited by Jeffrey Levine and Kristina Marie Darling.

 

In the poetry collection Four Quartets: Poetry in the Pandemic, established and emerging poets bear powerful witness to the COVID-19 pandemic. Comprised of sixteen separate chapbooks, accompanied by a collection of pandemic-era photography, each chapter has a unifying thread. The public and private experiences of quarantine, and the impulse toward creation during a time of enormous upheaval, injustice, and protest.

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4. Intimations by Zadie Smith.

 

The best literature (so far) of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Intimations: Six Essays explores the most fundamental questions of living through an unexpected and jolting change in the way we live. What does it mean to submit to a new reality–or to resist it? How do we compare relative sufferings? What is the relationship between time and work? In our isolation, what do other people mean to us? How do we think about them? What is the ratio of contempt to compassion in a crisis? And perhaps most importantly: when an unfamiliar world arrives, what does it reveal about the world that came before it? Note: the author has pledged to donate her royalties from the sale of this book to charity.

5. Alone Together, edited by Jennifer Haupt.

 

Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19 is a collection of essays, poems, and interviews from more than 90 authors. Including Kwame Alexander, Nikki Giovanni, Jean Kwok, Dani Shapiro and Lidia Yuknavitch. If you’re a bookworm, and you’ve been wondering what your favorite writers have been doing all year, you may find your answer here.

Note: all net profits will be donated to The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, to benefit booksellers in financial need.

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6. And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again, edited by Ilan Stavans.

 

 

And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again: Writers from Around the World on the COVID-19 Pandemic takes its title from the last line of Dante’s Inferno, when the poet and his guide emerge from hell to once again behold the beauty of the heavens. Throughout the stories, essays, poems, and artwork in this collection we learn of a series of harrowing experiences of life in the pandemic as they occur across the globe. Contributors include Jhumpa Lahiri, Mario Vargas Llosa, Claire Messud and Ariel Dorfman.

Collectively, these stories portray the loneliness, despair and resilience of people all over the world – and share their hopes for a less isolated future. Note: Net proceeds from sales of this title will go to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which supports independent booksellers.

7. How We Live Now by Bill Hayes.

 

The best literature (so far) of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

In How We Live Now: Scenes from the Pandemic, we follow along as a notable author and photographer wanders the increasingly empty streets of Manhattan. He meets fellow New Yorkers and discovers stories to tell. and images to record. This volume is filled with arresting street photography that speaks volumes about New York life, circa 2020.

But the author goes beyond the public sphere, sharing the unexpected moments of gratitude he finds while living alone and staying home. Reading, cooking, reconnecting with loved ones, reflecting on the past–and writing.

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8. There Is No Outside by Marco Roth.

 

The best literature (so far) of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The e-book There Is No Outside: Covid-19 Dispatches is a collaboration the magazine N+1 and Verso Books. The collection includes reports from New York City emergency rooms, essays about life under quarantine and explanations of how the pandemic has affected everything from global capital to digital surveillance.

9. The Decameron Project

 

With The Decameron Project, the editors of the New York Times Magazine have compiled a volume of 29 new stories from leading novelists about life during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s an impressive list, including Margaret Atwood, Karen Russell, Tommy Orange, Edwidge Danticat and Charles Yu among others.

the literature of the coronavirus pandemic 2020

That’s our list of the best books, novels, essay collections and poems written (so far) during and about the COVID-19 quarantine period and the global coronavirus pandemic. What’s at the top of your list in this emerging genre? Whatever you’re reading right now, stay safe and strong out there, dear reader.

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