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Reading During the Pandemic

Reading During the Pandemic

by Sarah Stewart on February 05, 2021

There was genuine panic in our house when we learned that the Worcester Public Library would shut down for COVID in March. We went to the library on the last day it was open. It was busier than I had ever seen it. We tried to imagine how long the library would be closed, and how many books we might want to read before it reopened. No school. No library. No in-person church. No concerts. No movies in theaters. What would we have but books?

We were correct: 2020 afforded a lot of time for reading. It was a reminder that the world is and has always been full of creative people making art. The pandemic has put a wrench in the business of getting art to the people, but it has not stopped the flow.

I read fewer giant histories this year (although Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning was worth the investment) and more fiction and poetry. As always, my reading was heavy on genre fiction. The Institute is the best novel Stephen King has written in years. Kelly Braffet is a wonderful author and a friend; The Unwilling was my favorite thing she has written so far. David Mitchell is one of my favorite fantasy/sf authors, but Utopia Avenue was disappointing. How Long `Til Black Future Month? was the first writing by N. K. Jemisin I have read, but it definitely won’t be the last. She is a fresh and powerful voice in science fiction and fantasy.

Some books were unexpected. I have been slowly wandering my way through A. S. Byatt’s semi-autobiographical “Frederica Quartet” for several years, and was surprised to find the third volume, Babel Tower, tense and thrilling in a way the first two were not. Byatt writes about her beginnings as a writer in illuminating ways. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon was astonishing, disturbing, and funny; The Waves by Virginia Woolf was tender and heartbreaking. They're both books that make you want to track down others who have read them to discuss.

I like to follow my nose in choosing what to read; I have never been happy in a book club or adhering to “must read” lists. That said, there are sources I trust to help me find new enjoyable and useful books. For books related to church and ministry, the book reviews in The Christian Century magazine are invaluable. For new fiction, I follow friend and colleague Claire Feingold-Thoryn on Instagram ( ). She reads piles of new books (from her local library!) and reviews them with matching facial expressions. I also treasure Worcester’s used book store Bedlam Book Cafe. They boast excellent curation; I can always find the perfect read or the perfect gift there.

The library reopened for reserving and checking out books in the summer, and we have been regular patrons ever since. As our lives’ pandemic slow-down continues, I expect 2021 will be another good year for reading.


Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Novels and Short Stories

Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Vol. 1, The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet

Babel Tower by A. S. Byatt

The Patient by Jasper DeWitt

Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson

Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson (reread)

Europe in Winter by Dave Hutchinson

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

The Institute by Stephen King

Luster by Raven Leilani

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle (reread) (audiobook)

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories by Hilary Mantel

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia by Victor Pelevin

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Memoir, Spiritual Writing and Essays

Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters by Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffiths

How To Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season by Susan Beaumont

All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer by Sarah Conover

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Trouble the Waters: A Christian Resource for the Work of Racial Justice, ed. Michael-Ray Mathews, Marie Clare P. Onwubuariri, and Cody J. Sanders

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag

Ingenuity: Preaching as an Outsider by Lisa L. Thompson

Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)

Widening the Circle of Concern: Report of the UUA Commission on Institutional Change

Addiction and Pastoral Care by Sonia E. Waters


Beowulf by Anonymous (trans. Seamus Heaney)

The Waste Land and Other Poems by T. S. Eliot

Role-Playing Games

Rasputin Must Die! by Brandon Hodge

Reign of Winter: The Witch Queen’s Revenge by Greg A. Vaughn

Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master by Michael E. Shea

Tags: books, reading, art, poetry

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