Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of lists centered around books that are perfect for occupying one’s time during the social isolation periods of a pandemic. There’s long books, uplifting books, gripping books, and everything in between. But what about books you SHOULDN’T read? Ones full of the world ending, awful viruses and infections, and post-apocalyptic wastelands. Probably not something people want to be thinking about at the moment, huh? So, why not look at a couple of them anyway?
The Stand – Stephen King
I’m pretty sure a lot of people predicted this book would show up. Like IT, The Stand is a doorstopper of a read at over 1100 pages and is considered to be one of Stephen King’s best. The Stand is set in a post apocalyptic world in which 99% of the population has died as a result of a super flu. The scattered survivors end up drawn to two camps led by very different individuals. Nebraska is home to Abigail Freemantle, a 108 year old woman who supposedly receives visions from God. In Las Vegas, Randall Flagg reigns – a man with supernatural powers who thrives off death and destruction. It’s a story about the struggle between good and evil and how quickly things like human greed and corruption can flourish when allowed to do so.
Year One (Chronicles of the One 1#) – Nora Roberts
Another book, another population murdering, world ending virus. However, if you like your apocalyptic stories mixed with fantasy, this is the one for you. In Year One, the plague (“The Doom”) is rooted in magic and after the decimation of humanity, magic starts to spring up rapidly among the immune survivors. Some fall on the light side of things – faeries, good witches, clairvoyants, etc. Then there are those gifted with dark powers who are interested in torture, rape and murder. To make matters worse, the government is also rounding up survivors in the hopes studying and testing them to determine the reason for their immunity. The book follows three groups of characters as they flee the city in search of safety and a new start.
Contagion – Erin Bowman
Now for something different, Contagion is a YA sci-fi read. Much like in the movie Alien, this book involves a team from a small ship called ‘Odyssey’ responding to an SOS signal from a mining crew on a distant planet in the hopes of carrying out a search and rescue mission. When they arrive, they find a bunch of dead bodies, rotten food and an abandoned site. And so, as you’d expect, they try their best to find out what happened. The next thing they know, an unknown contagion has infected the crew with potentially catastrophic consequences if it gets out. Not exactly comfort reading in today’s climate, huh? Also, there may or may not be some space zombies and a fight for survival thrown in the mix.
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Like The Stand, Station Eleven is a book which involves the wiping out of 99% of the population by means of a flu. In this case, “The Georgian Flu”. The book focuses on two timelines. The first details the lead up to the outbreak in which Arthur, a stage actor, is attempting to reboot his career by performing Shakespeare. Instead, he dies on stage and shortly after everything changes. The second skips forward into the future to follow the lives of several survivors and shows how they connect with one another through a group of actors and musicians called The Traveling Symphony. It’s a novel about nostalgia but also about just surviving versus actually living.
The Fireman – Joe Hill
Time for a different sort of pandemic from your average flu – one that involves the spread of highly contagious spore which causes black and gold “scales” to appear across the skin prior to spontaneous human combustion. I guess Coronavirus doesn’t sound so bad after all… The story revolves around a nurse named Harper who, after contracting the spores, disregards a pact she made with her husband to kill themselves if they were ever infected. This is so she can hopefully live long enough to deliver her baby. When her community begins to devolve into chaos and her husband abandons her, Harper finds aid in the form of a mysterious figure known as The Fireman, who has somehow learned to control and use his Dragonscale affliction.
Blindness – José Saramago
In Blindness, we, again, have a very different epidemic. The book begins with a man spontaneously losing his sight while waiting at a traffic light. He then sees a doctor to find an explanation for his condition who, after some time, also goes blind. All of a sudden, the city is rife with it, bright-white blindness spreading from one person to the next without warning. In an attempt to halt it, authorities confine those affected to an empty mental hospital where a criminal element soon takes over. Among it all, the doctor’s wife somehow retains her sight and does her best to look after those trapped but without revealing her unaffected vision. It’s a bleak view of society and a terrifying look at what people will do out of fear. Fun fact, this book won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.
The Maze Runner Series – James Dashner
This might not apply to the first book as much because the full context for events doesn’t become apparent until further in. Still, the series as a whole fits this list. *major spoiler warning* In The Maze Runner books, the world has been affected by a man-made disease known as ‘The Flare’, intended to reduce the world’s population due to limited resources. Instead of eventually disappearing as planned, the disease mutated, became airborne and spread across the world, reducing those infected to savage, cannibalistic beings. In an attempt to combat it, the group WICKED was formed and began to conduct experiments on the small percentage of the population who were not affected by the The Flare (such as sticking them inside a ginormous maze), hoping their brain patterns/responses would reveal a path to a cure.
The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
A team is deployed to retrieve a military probe, recently returned to Earth after a mission to take samples from the outer fringes of space. They quickly become uncontactable. Then the aerial satellite images of the closest township, Pidemont, Arizona, come through – the entire population deceased, as if they simply dropped dead in the street. The government quickly initiates ‘Operation Wildfire’, putting a small group of scientists in a race to discover how to stop a deadly alien organism, needing only a few seconds incubation, before it becomes catastrophic. This is the book for those who love highly scientific and technical based reads.
Wilder Girls – Rory Power
If the whole quarantine element is what keeps you up at night, maybe avoid Wilder Girls. Also, body horror, because there’s a fair bit of that here if you’re squeamish. The book is about a bunch of girls from a boarding school on an island off the coast of Maine being infected with some kind of crazy and painful, body altering disease called the Tox. The girls are kept isolated on the island where they’re forced to deal with limited supplies (ain’t no chance to go to the shops and panic buy here), bad weather and aggressive animal attacks. It’s dark, atmospheric and mysterious.
And there we have it, nine books to avoid reading during the current COVID-19 pandemic if you want to keep those anxiety levels and crazy dreams about the end of the world under control.
In all seriousness though, I hope you and your families are all doing well, staying safe and remaining isolated as much as you possibly can. As much as I like to joke about all this apocalyptic fiction type stuff, this is in no way our current predicament. Things may seem frightening, stressful, and lonely right now, but just know that you’re not alone. Despite all the darkness, things will be okay again. It’ll take some time, but we’ll get there. In the meantime, take up a new hobby, write that book you’ve been putting off, play Animal Crossing: New Horizons til your fingers cramp, whatever keeps you sane.
And most important of all, stay positive.