I must admit I’m a bit jealous of all of you who are putting this time to good use getting through a chunk of your reading list, and seeing some of your book piles. Imagine, coming out of all of this madness having crossed off a solid number of excellent reads!

The library in Toronto has closed, and I suspect in many other places, but there has never been a better time to get to know some of your local independent booksellers. I myself have many, many books on my shelves would welcome being dusted off, but in case you’re looking for something more thematically appropriate, here are a few of my favourite pandemic/dystopian/post-apocalyptic reads.

The Stand by Stephen King
A classic! I wasn’t sure if I was going to include this one, but it’s a classic, and it’s also one of my favourite Stephen King books. I read this when I first moved to Toronto, and I still remember standing in TTC stations waiting for the train with this tome. It’s a long one, but this is a good time to start something long and absorbing. It involves a pandemic, a new world, but it’s mostly about ordinary people in extraordinary times.



An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
I recently read this one, in January, before Canada’s infection rate and response to the virus really started to ramp up, which was pretty timely. And now here we are.
It involves a flu pandemic and time traveling. Survival in a new world after losing everything. Survival in general. It’s also about love, and survival in the old world.


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Once upon a time, we had a person named Bogdan working here, and he picked this book for our staff book club. Who knew he’d be a prophet, among other things.
This is one of my favourite pandemic books because in addition to the themes of survival and human interactions, it also discusses the idea of art and artists and musicians and its necessity in humans.


The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
It’s been a while since I read this one, but I did enjoy it, and I also enjoyed Empire of the Sun, which was one of the first books I’d ever read about Chinese/Japanese war events. The movie is also good.
No flu, but a prescient story about global warming bringing about tropical temperatures and rising water levels. Scientists and science and human regression as the world mutates.



American War by Omar El Akkad
A post apocalyptic story taking place in an American civilization ravaged by climate change, the hunger for fuel and politics, race and humanity, another American war, this time over fossil fuels. This is a contemporary novel that takes place in the future. It’s grim and raw and biting, and imagines how politics will shape our physical landscape.



The Amateurs by Liz Harmer
Another book club read, and another non-flu pandemic dystopian story.
This one, thrillingly, takes place in my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. Technology monoliths have gone awry, people have gone missing, other people are trying to survive. A rare post-apocalyptic novel that discusses the disinclination to surviving a Canadian winter without all the accoutrements of civilization.



Honourable mention:

The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai
I saw this at the library on the last day I visited before it shut down. I picked it up and put it down and now it’s become very timely and I’m not sure if I regret not checking it out. I can’t speak to anything about it other it has a great cover.



I’m currently still reading The Illegal by Lawrence Hill which I had started and was well into before we shut down the shops, so I’m clearly reading pretty slowly these days. I’m still trying to commit to a bit of reading in the evenings before bed, and although I don’t always too much in, it’s better than nothing.

These are perhaps not what you would call optimistic reads for this time (although really there is at least some optimism in almost all of these stories), and I’m working on a more cheerful list for a future post. However, you may also find that now is a good time to wonder about these things, to wonder about how we are and how we could be in tough times, as Torontonians, Canadians, humans. The kind of people we may be in danger of turning into, and the kind of people we want to be in wild situations, when the normal societal structures that keep us all in our lanes start to fall by the wayside. Maybe stories are just what we need at a time like this.

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March 28, 2020 — wonderpens


Brent Fong

Brent Fong said:

Hi Liz,

If you like the Stand you should read Swan Song by Robert Mccammon.

Stay safe.



Oh dear, these all look like Serious Books. I’m afraid I’m more into escapist reading to keep me entertained and distracted from reality! That, and New York Times crossword puzzles. And knitting, which goes without saying.

We are noticing that the Lamy Mango ink seems on the dry side as far as inks go. Any thoughts?

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