What We Learn From Pandemic Lit

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French writer Albert Camus's book "The Plague" (Die Pest, La Peste) is put out for delivery at the Uslar & Rai Bookshop in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district on March 31, 2020, amid a new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images)
French writer Albert Camus's book "The Plague" (Die Pest, La Peste) is put out for delivery at the Uslar & Rai Bookshop in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district on March 31, 2020, amid a new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Can pandemic literature serve as a tool to understand this pandemic? Authors Tom Perrotta, Geraldine Brooks and Lawrence Wright tell us what they think.


Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist. Her bestselling novel “Year of Wonders” draws on the history of the bubonic plague in rural England. (@GeraldineBrooks)

Lawrence Wright, staff writer at the New Yorker. Author of many books, including "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" and "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief." (@lawrence_wright)

Tom Perrotta, novelist and screenwriter. His 2011 novel “The Leftovers” imagines a Rapture-like event where 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappears.

Pandemic Lit Recommendations From Listeners


  • @tatiliberati: "Currently reading 'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel. The survival mechanism to repress reality on the outset of the pandemic in the book resonates with the denial we see many people expressing during coronavirus pandemic."
  • @elgallo7: "Reread 'Love in the Time of Cholera' and now am rereading 'Breakfast of Champions.'"
  • @JackieHendrySD: "I'm binge-reading 'The Chronicles of Narnia' because it brings back good childhood memories of reading for hours on my bedroom floor."
  • @robertewright: "Reading or watching 'Fahrenheit 451'; 'Brave New World'; '1984'; 'Handmaid's Tale'; 'The Man in the High Castle'; 'Logan's Run' ... want to know what my new overlord will be like so I can learn to probably kowtow to him/her/it."


  • Linda Luke: 'I read 'Year of Wonders' when it was published, many years ago and have never forgotten how powerful it was. We are having a 3 generation pandemic book group in my family — my daughter and 13-year-old granddaughter are joining me in reading it. It is wonderful to rekindle my relationship with Anna and we are all enjoying it immensely. I also just read 'The Plague' by Camus — it's fascinating to read about a novel's tale of the unfolding of events while you are also living through it in real time."
  • Clinton Nichols: "I would love to recommend the novel 'Blindness' by late Nobel laureate José Saramago (Portugal). I was moved when I first read this book about the tenaciousness of a group to survive social collapse as a result of an epidemic of blindness. I am planning on rereading it this summer and the sequel he wrote 'Seeing.'"

From The Reading List

Wall Street Journal: "Two Villages, Two Eras, Two Plagues" — "In the summer of 1990, before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I took a rare break from my job as a Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Escaping the hot, dusty landscapes of my beat for a few days, I went for a restorative ramble amid the moist greenery of England’s Peak District in Derbyshire."

Boston Globe: "Tom Perrotta on ‘The Leftovers’ and how we behave in times of fear and loss" — "In his 2011 book “The Leftovers,” the novelist Tom Perrotta wrote about the aftermath of a world-changing loss when 2 percent of the world’s human beings vanished inexplicably in one day. In the midst of our coronavirus pandemic, we talked to him about loss and fear, and what happens after a great crisis."

New York Times: "Opinion: What the Great Pandemic Novels Teach Us" — "For the past four years I have been writing a historical novel set in 1901 during what is known as the third plague pandemic, an outbreak of bubonic plague that killed millions of people in Asia but not very many in Europe. Over the last two months, friends and family, editors and journalists who know the subject of that novel, “Nights of Plague,” have been asking me a barrage of questions about pandemics."

The Economist: "How pandemics have inspired art, music and literature" — "When tourists return to Florence, some will wander into its cathedral and be struck by Andrea del Castagno’s “Equestrian Monument of Niccolò da Tolentino”. Painted in 1456, the fresco of the mercenary commander and his horse is an optical illusion. The pair are depicted as a statue and the perspective scheme enables the painting to be viewed from different angles."

The Guardian: "'It's unnerving': Lawrence Wright on the eerie prescience of his pandemic novel" — "The novel virus first emerged in east Asia. By spring, a pandemic suffuses the globe. In America, businesses shut down, airports empty, misinformation abounds. The president, a divisive figure with a tanning bed in the White House, offers baseless reassurances, and appoints the dubiously pious vice-president to lead the pandemic response."

This program aired on May 14, 2020.


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Anna Bauman Producer/Director, On Point
Anna Bauman is a producer and director at On Point.


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Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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