This past Thursday, March 11, was the one-year anniversary of when the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic and various countries went into COVID lockdown. It’s also the one-year anniversary of COVID coloring my reaction to the content of non-pandemic novels — at least a little.
No surprise there. One’s life can affect how we react to literature, and COVID has had a huge impact on our lives. When reading fiction in 2020 and 2021, I sometimes overtly and sometime subconsciously thought of the pandemic.
The latest instance for me, this past week, involved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Betty Smith’s poignant, memorable, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel may have been published in 1943, but parts of it really resonated in this time of coronavirus.
How? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn‘s young, bright, impoverished, early-20th-century protagonist Francie Nolan has vivid school experiences as a preteen/teen that reminded me that my similarly aged younger daughter has been doing remote instruction since March 2020. The requirement that Francie get the smallpox vaccine before starting school reminded me of the COVID-vaccine shots now sweeping the planet. Francie living in a city neighborhood of tenements reminded me how crowded milieus are unfortunately conducive to spreading disease. And the novel’s Brooklyn setting reminded me that, despite my living just 12 miles west of New York City (where I worked for several decades and continued to visit fairly often), I haven’t traveled there for over a year.
(The photo atop this blog post is from 1945’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn movie.)
When reading other novels last year such as Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie’s Americanah, I thought once again of COVID’s racial and economic disparities — with people of color and people of lower incomes much more affected.
Heidi? As I finally got to Johanna Spyri’s classic last year, all that fresh air in the mountains of Switzerland sure sounded non-pandemic-y — though the novel included a major secondary character who was ill.
Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine? Many haven’t been able to say the same during the pandemic, though that novel’s title was mostly meant to be ironic.
While enjoying Lee Child’s/Andrew Child’s Jack Reacher novel The Sentinel this year, I fantasized about the powerful Reacher punching out COVID.
And during the pandemic’s early days of March 2020, I read Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers — about nine imperfect guests at a health resort. I was lamenting at the time that my wife and I had just canceled an April 2020 family vacation, but, then again, there was the silver lining of there being no chance of staying in lodgings as weird and scary as the one Moriarty depicted. 🙂
Every novel I mentioned in this post was published before COVID, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t spur pandemic-related feelings. And in coming years, of course, a not-insignificant chunk of literature will undoubtedly reference this time of coronavirus.
Has some of the fiction you’ve read during the past year made you think of COVID? Any examples you’d like to offer?
Then there is fiction directly about pandemics and such, which I covered last year.
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about a settlement that will bring some of my town’s teachers back into schools next month — is here.