Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart; Violeta by Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle; and Covid Chronicles: A Comics Anthology edited by Kendra Boileau, Rich Johnson book covers. (Image: Random House, Ballantine Books, and Graphic Mundi – Psu Press.)

5 New Books to Help Process the COVID-19 Pandemic

Depending on where you put the start date, we’re almost two years into this pandemic. While many writers have trucked through their novels, and some wrote far away from viral diseases, others explored this topic in various genres, from romance to literary fiction.

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When we close our eyes and imagine a “COVID-19 book,” unfortunately, that viral erotica novelette series Kissing the Coronavirus Chronicles comes to mind. I don’t think I need to explain any further about the plot than that. Everything you need to know from that 16-page short story is evident in the title, I promise.

Robert Winters (pseudonym M.J. Edwards) began publishing these stories a few weeks into the pandemic, when they lost their job. We get it. Many people were laid off, but it’s just not my cup of tea —even at 99 cents. If you want an overly rigorous analysis of the text, check out Cindy Pham’s breakdown from 2020.

All this being said, this is NOT the type of book we’re talking about on this list. That book provided levity at that moment, but the books published now are direct products of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While still ultimately intended to turn a profit like Winters, these authors also wrote to engage with the moment. They provided a group exercise to process the moments early during the pandemic and compare this experience to that of the past, so if that’s something you could use right now, here are five examples for you:

Original Sisters: Portraits of Tenacity and Courage by Anita Kunz

Original Sisters: Portraits of Tenacity and Courage by Anita Kunz (Image: Pantheon Books.)

(Pantheon Books)

Kunz turned an internet rabbit hole of looking at excellent, often overlooked women in history into Original Sisters: Portraits of Tenacity and Courage. The book features some women you expect but also hidden legends like scientist Alice Ball and anti-Nazi German activist Sophie Scholl. Kunz pairs a mini-biography with an original painting created during the pandemic.

The artbook doesn’t have anything distinctly pandemic-related to it, but we included it as raised glass for those who got anything done during a lockdown. As an artist, I had both spurts of energy and months of emotional drain that I still struggle with, so kudos to Kunz for this feat—one cosigned and forwarded by Roxane Gay.

Violeta by Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle

Violeta by Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle (Image: Ballantine Books.)

(Ballantine Books)

Born in 1920 and dying in 2020, Violeta Del Valle’s life began and ended with a pandemic. Told through an intimate recounting, Violeta shares the personal and political in a century of monumental social, technological, and political change. As someone who has rewatched Forrest Gump so many times and, each time, understood more about the world and gained a new appreciation, I’m stoked for this book.

After featuring an Allende novel on the Latinx magical realism books list, I already had Violeta on my radar. However, feminist Carmen of “Tomes and Textiles” sold it to us. Camen highlights books by people of color (especially Latinx stories) and often fuses fashion in her videos on TikTok, Instagram, and more.

@tomesandtextiles

#ad Violeta by Isabel Allende is out TODAY on @randomhouse check out the link in my bio to order! #isabelallende #violeta #latinxbooks #latinxbooktok #librotok #booktok

♬ original sound – Alyoops

Lockdown on London Lane by Beth Reekles

Lockdown in London Lane by Beth Reekles (Image: W by Wattpad Books.)

(W by Wattpad Books)

This light-hearted romantic comedy features a series of perspectives upended by the news that all apartments on London Lane are participating in mandatory 7-day quarantine. Each apartment deals with unique issues such as a recent breakup (with the partner still there), a bridal shower, a one-night stand, and more.

You’re probably going to have to suspend some disbelief or pretend that everyone is very, very rich to get through this one. Not going to lie—I was hesitant about putting any book by the writer of the Kissing Booth Trilogy. However, this is Reekles’ 10th novel (giving her time to grow as a writer), and the premise has me curious. Lockdown on London Lane publishes tomorrow, February 1.

Covid Chronicles: A Comics Anthology edited by Kendra Boileau, Rich Johnson

Covid Chronicles: A Comics Anthology edited by Kendra Boileau, Rich Johnson (Image: Graphic Mundi – Psu Press.)

(Graphic Mundi – Psu Press)

Artists and writers worldwide submitted to this graphic novel, sharing their thoughts, experiences, and concerns regarding the pandemic and heightened system inequities. Of all of these books, this one can be the most triggering. Despite the wealthy seeking to “move on,” the pandemic is still taking thousands of lives daily, just in the U.S. alone. While there are some stories of hope and humor, many of these dwell in the realm of uncertainty, frustration, loss, anxiety, and more.

All those involved donated their portion of the profit to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) in support of comic shops, bookstores, and employees affected by the pandemic.

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart (Image: Random House.)

(Random House)

A lot happened over the six months inside. Shteyngart’s satirical novel follows a group of wealthy friends and friends-of-friends gathering in upstate New York hoping to “wait out” the pandemic. The cast includes a Russian-born family and their K-pop-loving child, a struggling Indian American writer, a successful Korean American app developer, a globetrotting dandy, and a “Southern flamethrower of an essayist.”

(image: Random House, Ballantine Books, and Graphic Mundi – Psu Press)

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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.