Pandemic Books That Simply Understand What it Feels Like

Sometimes the most comforting thing in uncertain times is reading a book that really gets what we’re going through.

Ever since the world was hit with the first wave of the Coronavirus, dystopian scenarios started feeling more real than ever. For some of us, escapism was the only way we could deal with the reality of this situation. For others, the most helpful thing was imagining the worst possible outcome and finding stress relief in the fact that things aren’t as bad as they could be. If you’re an avid reader, however, you can, in fact, combine both of these things.

Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic books have been a staple of the science fiction section for over a hundred years. With the emergence of works centering around pandemics, this sci-fi sub-genre found its way to a hoard of new readers who feel comfort in the way fictional characters react to the most challenging and life-threatening circumstances. Today, when social distancing, masks and self-isolation are the new normal, maybe the thing we need to calm down is emerging ourselves in similar scenarios between the pages of someone else’s story. Here are five recommendations which can help you do exactly that. 


Severance – Ling Ma

No one can capture the feeling of being a millennial in a crumbling society as skillfully as Korean-American author Ling Ma. In her brilliant debut novel ‘Severance’, exploring a virus that spreads in unforeseen ways, Ma tackles the subjects of capitalism, emigration and existentialism, together with the feelings of restlessness following unpredictable times.

‘Severance’ isn’t afraid of asking the questions that kept us feeling anxious throughout the past two years. Instead, it offers a glimpse into the mind of a character who is as lost and confused as we are, yet deals with it even in the worst of circumstances. In the manner of true science-fiction, Ma’s novel reminds us that life always finds a way to go on and that beauty, meaning and resilience hide in the most unexpected places.


Station Eleven – Emily Saint John Mandel

If you’re looking for a book that’s precisely capturing what living before, during and after a pandemic feels like, then ‘Station Eleven’ by Canadian author Emily Saint John Mandel might be the quintessential title you’re looking for. Following a variety of different characters throughout a long period of time, what we find at the center of this story is a kaleidoscopic view of the way humans and humanity itself, with all their good and bad sides, can survive no matter what.

‘Station Eleven’ starts off during the evening when a famous theater actor dies on stage. This is the same night in which a deadly virus starts spreading, about to wipe out the majority of the population. It’s in the pages of this smartly crafted character study where we can find a reflection of our biggest fears, yet it’s precisely this horrifying accuracy where this apocalyptic work of fiction is the most potent in making us feel seen and understood. What Mandel manages to achieve throughout her novel is a sense that being a breathing, living, feeling person in this scary world is sometimes the most beautiful thing to be.


Wilder Girls – Rory Power

Rory Power’s debut tour de force is a feminist reply to contemporary issues. Tackling the problems of young adults, especially women, puberty and sexuality, ‘Wilder Girls’ is a fever dream of a book at whose core we find a true pandemic story through the eyes of youths.

With the themes of quarantine and self-isolation, we follow three teenage girls stuck in a boarding school on a deserted island, faced with an unknown sickness that causes strange mutations, pain and death. ‘Wilder Girls’ is a novel about the climate crisis as much as it is a novel about the way a virus can alter our bodies and our minds. While there are elements of horror and suspense, the way Power’s writes about our everyday issues under the pressure of catastrophe makes us feel less alone in the worries that sometimes overwhelm all of us – no matter the age.


Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Best known for her capital work of dystopian fiction ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, author Margaret Atwood gifted us with another spectacular anti-utopian novel which hits especially close to home in 2021. Focusing on the consequences of a globally fatal man-made sickness, the 2003 book ‘Oryx and Crake’ echoes ever so strongly in the times we’re living through right now, offering warnings as much as guidance.

Aside from the musings on a dying ecosystem, corruption, violence and various other disasters our society might face in the near future, this novel packs its punches most brilliantly when talking about how dreadful and difficult it is to witness the aftermath of a health-related calamity. In Atwood’s own words, everything she writes about is true, it just might not have happened at the same time and in the same place, which makes the authenticity of her craft stand out as much as it takes our breath away.


Illuminae – Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

In the past few years, there has been an influx of post-apocalyptic and science fiction books in the Young Adult genre. By creating a space for authors to explore the way teenagers have to adapt to dangerous circumstances, books like Kristoff and Kaufman’s ‘Illuminae’ allowed the current literary scene to branch out into genre fiction like we’ve never seen before.

In their mixed media book, this author duo laid the foundation for an entertaining but also profound story of two young people who have to quickly adjust to their new ways of living. With a pandemic starting to loom in the background, taking the lives of many innocent people, this sci-fi opera set on a spaceship connects a fast-paced plot with some all too familiar routines of isolation and fear we’re experiencing on the daily in 2021. If you’re looking for a book that captures what it feels like to be an adolescent in dystopian times, ‘Illuminae’ is a must read.


Editorial credit: Ambient.State /

If you’d like to cozy up to some more books, check out this article.

Five Books to Read Before You Die (Or the Planet Does)


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