What to read to get you through the pandemic

Published on 06 May 2020.
Reading time: 4 min.

I’ve been finding it hard to process the lockdown. I usually read a lot, but in the first few weeks when the pandemic took hold, I ended up reading far too much about it.

I would stay up late, glued to articles filled with statistics, death rates, country comparisons and exit strategies. This was really unhealthy for me, personally, and had a negative impact on my mental health.

So, I’m now actively trying to avoid consuming too much news.

But this has left a gap: how can I process the emotions caused by the pandemic? What can I do to try and find my way through this time?

These are the books (and article) I’ve turned too. None of these books were written since the coronavirus pandemic took off, so none of them make mention of it. But they all touch on similar themes, which help me to understand and accept what’s happening right now, and adapt to the changes in my daily way of life.

1. Limbo — Dan Fox #

This long-form essay is described as “…a companion for the stuck, the isolated, delayed, stranded and those in the dark.” Fox meanders between a wide range of anecdotes and ideas while telling his story of leaving England and sailing around the world on a container ship. It’s all pulled together cohesively into a meditation on what it’s like to feel stuck, on how a period of feeling lost is sometimes needed. Sometimes, there can be “no growth without stagnancy, no movement without inactivity, and no progress without refusal.”

Limbo was published in the UK by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2018. You can read an excerpt here, in the Paris Review. I read this book a while ago, but have come back to it recently, because Fox has recorded and released (in lockdown in March 2020) an abridged and adapted free audio-book version of it.

2. Surrender — Joanna Pocock #

Surrender is another Fitzcarraldo book. It covers the author’s time spent living in Missoula, Montana. Pocock looks at rewilding experiments and radical environmental movements in the American West. She writes with care and compassion for both nature and for the groups of humans who make different claims about their roles in relation to nature.

Right now, all of humanity is travelling a lot less, which has led to a huge decrease in use of cars and planes. This has subsequently led to an improvement in air quality, to wild animals exploring outside of their habitat, to global carbon emissions plummeting. But the period of lockdown will surely end, and humans will return to travelling the world at speed, without fully contemplating the consequences. Surrender is a great book for contemplating the relationship we have with the world, and questioning the relationship we should have in the future.

Surrender was published in the UK by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2019. You can read an excerpt here, in Tank magazine.

3. Plot 29 — Allan Jenkins #

Those of us fortunate to have access to green spaces are likely spending more and more time outside. Some of us are maybe taking the time to grow things. There’s something calming about being outside, doing simple jobs with our hands, like planting seedlings or weeding. There’s something nice about being close to the earth, feeling fresh compost run through our fingers.

I’ve been reading Jenkins’ weekly column on writing in The Guardian. He writes that in gardening in his allotment plot, Plot 29, he

found nurture in nature. Peace of mind in growing childhood flowers, radishes and peas. Over these anxious weeks I’ve been drawn to the plot. To salads sown to the rat-a-tat-tapping of the woodpecker, the call of the invisible owl, a robin bobbing for worms where I’ve just broken ground.

Plot 29 is a “mystery story and meditation on nature and nurture.” It was published in 2018 by 4th Estate.

You can also read Jenkins’ weekly writings in The Guardian here.

4. The Myth Gap — Alex Evans #

I read this wonderful short book by Alex Evans a while ago. Evans looks at how the stark political changes of the last few years can be attributed to one side having better narratives than the other. Stories used to shape all of how society, but Evans argues that there is now a “myth gap.”

The stories we tell ourselves, about the world and about each other, can be incredibly powerful. While this book looks at how to find the right myths to combat populism and climate change, all of it applies to fighting misinformation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and building a better world.

The Myth Gap was published in the UK in 2017 by Penguin.

5. Silence — Erling Kagge #

The blurb to my copy of Silence by Erling Kagge describes the book like so: “Norwegian explorer Kagge once spent fifty days walking solo across Antarctica [with] his radio broken.” However, this blurb fails to mention that Kagge was only carrying a radio because the company who owned the plane that dropped him off had forced him to carry one. Kagge himself broke the radio; he left the batteries in the plane before disembarking.

Kagge was the first explorer to reach all three of the North Pole, the South Pole and the summit of Mount Everest. His book of reflections explores the primal human search for silence. Kagge describes silence as more than just the absence of sound. He writes that

silence is more of an idea. A notion. The silence around us may contain a lot, but the most interesting kind of silence is the one that lies within. […] It’s possible for everyone to discover this silence within themselves. It is there all the time, even when we are surrounded by constant noise.

Silence was first published in English in the UK in 2017 by Penguin.

6. Why Everything Is Getting Louder — Bianca Bosker #

This long-read article is a great piece of investigative journalism about the never-ending hum produced by data centres, and the groups of people campaigning to find some quiet.

However, the din is now dropping. Recently in the UK there has been a notable notable reduction in the hum of ground vibrations generated by human activities. Compared to noise levels before lockdown, signals recorded by seismologists across the country show that the ambient noise caused by people going about their daily lives has dropped between 20% and 50% in the last five weeks.

Bosker’s article can be read as one of your allowance of five free monthly articles on The Atlantic.