I’m Not Interested in Reading Novels Set During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Almost as soon as the stay-at-home orders started in March 2020 in the U.S., some publishers and authors began thinking about publishing books that would be set during the covid-19 pandemic and that would help readers process the experience. This is a laudable goal! The pandemic has affected everyone in countless ways, from making it impossible to visit friends and family, to causing people to miss out on celebrations of important life events to, of course, causing unimaginable sickness and loss. Globally, we are sharing a profoundly traumatic experience. It makes sense that artists want to help us make sense of it. And yet, I am not interested in reading a book set during the pandemic.

Many people assumed that the pandemic would be over by now. That maybe it would not be as bad as we thought. That we could vaccinate our way out of it. That it would maybe just disappear and things could go back to the way they were before. This has not happened, and no health or public officials are setting any clear criteria for what would indeed mark a return to normalcy. Almost two years later, we are still sharing our trauma. We are living it every day. What that looks like varies from person to person, but we can assume that pretty much everyone is finding it difficult. And we have no idea when it will ever end. So why on earth would I want to read a book that reminds me of how terrible it all is?

For me, reading is an important opportunity to escape what an often be an overwhelming world. It is a chance to mentally refresh by experiencing stories that are not my own. These stories often offer hope, or the reminder that we are not alone, or the idea that maybe there is some overarching narrative thread that gives purpose and meaning to what happens to us. Certainly all this could happen in a story set during the pandemic–and I imagine that would be the point of writing such a story in the first place. But for me the pandemic is too close to home. It’s still happening. I don’t want to enter it again in my imagination. I don’t want to watch people suffer and maybe die in the same way that people are doing in real time all around me. It’s too soon. It’s too much. And I doubt that I would be able to fully buy in to any sense of hope offered by a pandemic story, when it seems like real life has repeatedly given us hope, and then snatched it away.

It’s a nice idea, to write a story set during these difficult times, a story that maybe would tell a reader that they may still come out on the other end. But a pandemic story is not for me. I’m living that story. I don’t want to read it.

31 thoughts on “I’m Not Interested in Reading Novels Set During the Covid-19 Pandemic

    • Krysta says:

      Right now, I feel like I really want to read some light, happy books! I’m not really into true crime or anything like that, either, because it can get pretty disturbing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David M Cameron says:

        Life is very hard for many people and a bit of light escapism is what is called for. Thrills, intrigue, romance are good for mental health and take us out of the depressing news, terrible stories and fear of modern life.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. _tirilu says:

    I agree with you. I’m reading to relax, to occupy my brain with something else than my life. To experience things that I can’t experience myself, be it because there is unfortunately just no way for me to enter another dimension or find a talking dragon or become some kind of mythical scientiest. I don’t want to read about the things that are affecting me right now, like some kind of fear porn.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I can see real-life covid stories just by reading the news. I suppose a fictional novel could offer some sort of hope or try to help us make meaning of it all, but it feels too soon for someone to try to tell me that there’s meaning in this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Linda I PagesandPapers says:

    Great topic! I agree with you, right now I’m not really interested in reading fiction set during the pandemic. But once this is over (hopefully soon), I think it’ll be interesting to go back and look at our situation with temporal distance. Do you have any examples of books set during covid? All I can think of right now is The Anthropocene Review by John Green-but that’s nonfiction.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I can’t remember the names of the books I’ve seen. I know I saw at least two midlist middle grade books that seemed to be set during covid or at least generally referencing a girl living through a pandemic. But as soon as I saw what they were about, I put them back and moved on. It’s too soon!

      I know I’ve also seen some picture books and those make more sense to me. Just short stories about everyone staying inside or having to wear masks, but still finding smiles and love, etc. I can get where those would be useful, to help little ones try to understand what’s happening.

      But do I want to read a full-length novel about a girl suffering through quarantine? Absolutely not. It’s too soon for me for that!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. JdV says:

    I agree to a certain extent. I read for escapism but sometimes to try and see a different point of view. The only pandemic book I’ve read so far is The Fell by Sarah Moss which is really a novella. It was quite powerful though and I’m glad I read it.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I know especially early on, books about pandemics and the influenza of 1918 were flying off the shelves, presumably because people wanted more context/to understand what was happening. That makes sense to me! At the same time, though, I’m just not ready to read a book that presumably is going to try to tell me that everything is okay and there’s meaning in this. I think the pandemic would have to be over before I could take that sort of message very seriously. We’ve been told too many times by the media that the end might be nearing for me to feel very hopeful about the situation.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. danielle pitter says:

    I wrote my poetry book during the pandemic last year but it’s not SET during the pandemic, if that makes sense. I needed an outlet to get out of the constant fear and uncertainty I was feeling at the time so I wrote a book about it. But other than that, I feel like it’s way too soon to be writing about the very real and present situation. Let’s revisit this idea in 100 years 😂😂

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That makes sense to me! Writing helps us work through what we’re feeling! It can help us cope! At the same time, I’m not ready for a book set during covid that would end on a hopeful note or try to tell me that there’s meaning in all this. Too soon!

      Like

  5. jan @ thedoodlecrafter says:

    I agree with this post so much! I also feel like books set during the pandemic will age very quickly (haha I said this in 2020 as well, and the pandemic is still ongoing 😂) but most of all, I agree with what you said – I read books for the escapism, and I really don’t want to relive the pandemic all over again, one is enough.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      At some point, a book set during the pandemic would probably make great historical fiction. Or one written now would probably be very interesting for people to see what writers were thinking and feeling as they live through it. That’s all great. But…it’s still too soon for me. I don’t need a fictionalized story about something that’s still happening. I can just watch the news.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. SJS says:

    I cannot fathom how I would write dialogue for masks. Ugh. I’m not even thrilled about seeing on episodic television!

    Maybe in a few years, when it’s behind us, I will want to read and/or write about the pandemic, but not while it’s in full swing. I just haven’t processed it all yet.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I suppose one’s pandemic novel could have a dramatized version of a mask debate. Could be very exciting. In the future. But I agree. I’m still processing it because it’s STILL HAPPENING. And while I think that writing about it could help others process it, I’m not there yet.

      A book with a hopeful note wouldn’t be believable to me at this point and a book that ends sadly would be just as bad as watching the news.

      Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, maybe when the pandemic is over, I will want to read stories about it. Maybe it will help us all process the experience. But right now? I’m living it. I don’t need to read about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    Seriously. We’re coming up on two years of this, and as far as I can tell there are two main groups of people: 1) people who are depressed it’s two years and no end in sight and 2) people who have given up and are acting like the pandemic is over anyway. I can’t imagine either of these groups being eager audiences for this stuff, so I don’t know what publishers are thinking.

    A while back I saw some middle grade authors on Twitter discussing how they were going to incorporate the pandemic into their books to, I don’t know, help kids cope or something, and I found it weird. Maybe some kids would be into that since they’ve certainly have a different pandemic experience from adults, but I’d love to see thoughts from actual kids on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I imagine publishers think this will help us all process what’s happening? But I think it’s hard to try to give meaning to something that is still happening. Ending a book on a hopeful note would feel cheap and unbelievable to me. Like, people are still dying, and you want to tell me it’s all okay? Way too soon. And ending on a sad note? Well, if I want to be depressed about everything happening in the world, I just read the news. Watching a fictional person try to tell me how to give meaning to what is happening to me in real life almost feels offensive.

      Who knows. Maybe kids would be more receptive, but I also think it would really depend on their experience. Some people I know barely seem touched by the pandemic, or act like it’s just not happening. Others have experienced incredible suffering and loss. It might be hard to reach both groups at the same time.

      Like

  8. Ari Augustine says:

    For me, personally, I’ve always enjoyed contagion/outbreak/pandemic stories. And when COVID-19 descended upon us, that didn’t really change. If anything, I found it therapeutic. Maybe others did, too. Tbh, peoples’ reactions unnerved me more than the pandemic itself. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, reading about the same thing we’re all going through…facing it down (even in fiction)…actually helped with my anxiety disorder & catastrophic thinking. It helped me process the loss, the frustration, and the fear, but it also made me grateful things hadn’t been worse (because they could have been). All things considered, it wasn’t the worse thing to happen to me in 2020. Nearly losing two of my friends to suicide, having to give up a once-in-a-lifetime job in Japan, suffering from crippling OCD to the point of nearly not graduating, and not being to able to bury family members (who had died from cancer and a heart attack due to being too afraid to leave their homes…even to see a doctor) WAS. And so, in comparison, a pandemic book is actually…nice. It’s straightforward and hopeful, usually with a solid “reason” for such a horrible thing happening…and almost always with an end in sight. Maybe that’s why others were reading them. Maybe they found comfort where others found chaos.

    Also, I read in the Guardian that many publishers jumped on board because contagion outbreak type book sales in some countries (like the UK) jumped about 150%. So a lot of people *were* buying those types of books during the pandemic in certain places in 2020. Not sure if those sales are still high, though.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about how you’ve been affected! It’s certainly been a difficult time in many ways. I do see how writing about and reading about an experience helps people process. That makes sense! I’m just at a point where I don’t really want an author to try to give me hope, because, well, I don’t have any and I know I wouldn’t buy into that type of story right now. Maybe later. Maybe when it’s all over. But right now? Ugh.

      Yeah, the early interest in pandemic books makes sense to me! I think people wanted more context for what was happening, maybe a roadmap, or an idea of how we would get through. I also wonder if those sales are still high.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Interesting post!! It really got me thinking!

    I did think the same way, but I’ve actually changed my mind recently! I initially thought it was in poor taste- but at the same time it’s just such a big global event it feels weird reading contemporaries that don’t mention it or pretend it didn’t happen. And writing contemporaries and thrillers set in 2019 is only going to work up until a point (especially when you end up thinking “none of this petty drama is going to matter in a year”).

    I think it’s going to be impossible for authors *not to* mention it. I also think my opinion has shifted because I’m beginning to think I’ll find it cathartic when people acknowledge it. Not all the time- I’m not quite ready to read “love in lockdown” and didn’t enjoy reading station eleven last year- but I think in the not too distant future I’ll end up gravitating towards books that acknowledge what has happened.

    I also think that it’s inevitable that writers are going to want to dissect what has happened through literature. It would be weird if they didn’t! People wrote about world wars while they were happening- why not this? Plus, it’ll be an important historical marker to have fiction actually written about what’s happening, while it’s happening. So yeah, I hear you and I’m still a massive fan of escapism, but I’m not wholly against reading books set in the pandemic

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think I’m currently a fan of nebulous contemporaries that are presumably set in something like 2019, but it’s not stated explicitly what year it is. The characters have cell phones and stuff from the modern world, but they aren’t namedropping bands or brands so it’s not going to be dated. That works for me because if I want to read a cute romance or something, I don’t really want the shadow of death hanging over it all.

      I do see the value in using literature to process what’s happened! And maybe some day I’ll want or need that for myself. Today, however, I am going to keep reading through the Nancy Drew books because there’s not even real danger in there. Yes, Nancy gets tied up and thrown in a closet in almost every book, but she gets rescued literally five pages later. I don’t even have to wait for the rescue I know is coming. I think that’s about the extent of thrills my brain can handle right now.

      Like

  10. Mary Drover says:

    THIS. I’ve even had trouble reading fantasy stories with plagues in them, or any kind of illness that’s effecting the world at large. Even if they’re backlist and not meant to reflect our current times, it’s become the sort of thing that I see in a summary and immediately veer away from. I doubt I’ll ever be able to read about the pandemic in my lifetime because it’s probably always going to be too close to home.

    Like

  11. KP says:

    Many of us thought this pandemic would be temporary. Now nearing two years it’s definitely caused challenges and heartache. My family and I have sought comfort in the Holy Scriptures. One passage is Revelation 21:3,4. To know that our Heavenly Father promises a life free from pain and death is truly something to look forward to.

    Like

Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.