Given the sudden popularity of pandemic-themed movies on Netflix, the abundance of pandemic-themed news in real life, and the general post-apocalyptic feeling a lot of us are experiencing by practicing social distancing, I thought I’d compile my own list of books I’ve read and enjoyed that are close to this topic. While some may find this list of fiction hits a little too close to home right now, I thought all of these books carried an overall message of hope and endurance.
By Emily St. John Mandel
You know that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you snuggle up in a blanket, a hot drink in one hand, your loved ones close, and everything is right with the world? That is the feeling I get when I think about this book. Yes, it is about a flu pandemic that wipes out a significant percentage of people on Earth, but this book is beautiful. This excellently-written novel starts off with a pandemic that spreads practically overnight and effects most of the world’s population in about a two-week time period. The story follows five people who are connected by a simple twist of fate, jumping back and forth between their pre and post pandemic lives. But this book is less about the storyline and more about how it makes you feel—melancholic and hopeful at the same time. You’ll come away from this one with a deeper appreciate for the normal, everyday life we often take for granted. The result is a view of a post-apocalyptic world that is hopeful, at times scary, and very riveting.
THE DOG STARS
By Peter Heller
Hig lives a fairly solitary life holed up in an abandoned airport after a pandemic killed most of the population. When he’s out on a flight one day, searching for provisions, Hig gets a radio signal; something he hasn’t heard in a very long time. His decision to follow the radio signal in search of life leads him to danger and hope, and he discovers inner strengths that he never knew he possessed. If you like this book, I highly recommend Heller’s latest novel, THE RIVER, which tells the story of two men caught in the path of an oncoming wildfire.
By Joe Hill
Of all the books on this list, this is the one that focuses most on the actions of people who are trying to survive a pandemic instead of on the people the pandemic leaves behind. When Harper Grayson, a pregnant nurse, discovers she’s caught a horrible new disease that generally leads its victims to death by spontaneous combustion, she’s determined to live long enough to deliver her baby. She turns to a mysterious man known as The Fireman for help and protection. This book is technically a horror novel, but it has a great sense of humor and light-heartedness to it as well.
A BEGINNING AT THE END
By Mike Chen
Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are tentatively trying to rebuild their lives. Krista, Moira, Rob, and Sunny are all brought together by circumstance, but as they get to know each other, they all discover they’ve been running from their pasts. When a new pandemic looms, the group learns that it’s easier to survive when you have others you can turn to.
WORLD WAR Z
By Max Brooks
Not only is this my favorite book about a killer pandemic, this is probably my favorite book period. And I don’t even like zombie fiction! Years after a zombie virus terrorized the globe, a lone reporter travels the world to interview presidents, generals, CEOs, and housewives alike about their experiences during World War Z. This book is less about zombie gore, and more about how the world would react to a deadly pandemic. Brooks definitely did his homework for this one, and the book feels so real that you may often forget that it’s about zombies, and not about our current social affairs. But never fear! This book takes place after all the bad stuff, so it’s actually a beacon of hope for dark times. (P.S. Since this is a collection of oral interviews, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook!)
LIFE AS WE KNEW IT
By Susan Pfeffer
This YA book is not about a pandemic, but a world in which the moon has been hit by an meteor, knocking it closer in its orbit to Earth. Gravitation forces cause tidal waves of destruction, unprecedented volcanic activity, and earthquakes that ravage the world-over. Teenage Miranda and her family retreat into their home to survive in the cold and ash-covered world they now live in. Readers familiar with social distancing and quarantine will identify with the mental and emotional strain the characters endure as they hunker down in their home, worrying about food, supplies, and the effects of social isolation. The emotional reactions of the characters feel very real, and the story can often take bleak and distressing turns. Nevertheless, this is another hopeful read about how, even in a dark and apocalyptic world, we can still find love and hope to cling to.