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.