Daily Archives: March 11, 2020

No Dystopian Novels: Reading During a Pandemic


Soon it will look like this.

It’s official.  Your travel plans are canceled.  You will have an extended spring break at home.   And March Madness basketball will be played in empty arenas.

But we’re cool.  Very cool. 

On a lovely spring day, life proceeds much as usual. Today it’s sunny, if a little cool, and we’re putting a ban on reading articles about the virus.  And since you’re probably looking for escape reading, let me recommend a few novels that are must-reads–some even classics.

Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy traces three generations “of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century.” Gorgeous writing.  I couldn’t put it down.

If you’ve never read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Cazelet Chronicles, it’s time for a binge-read. Praised by Hilary Mantel,  this brilliant family saga spans the years from 1937 to 1956. I was so absorbed in the first novel, The Light Years, that I rode past my bus stop.

Balzac’s The Human Comedy consists of ninetysome novels, novellas, and stories. My favorite is Cousin Bette, a masterpiece in which a middle-aged spinster schemes to ruin the family who has neglected her.   But, really, I’ve loved them all–even those in awkward, possibly censored 19th-century translations.

Want to go to another universe? There are problems everywhere.  But I  recommend Ann Leckie’s award-winning science fiction trilogy, Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy.  It’s complicated–the soldier, Breq, used to be the brain in a spaceship , and has been installed in a human body.  She is on the rampage to right some wrongs.  Really fascinating, part noir, part Western, part SF.

Georgette Heyer’s The Transformation of Philip Jetta.  This is my favorite Georgette Heyer. Take Philip Jettan, a handsome but rustic aristocrat, who is loved but disapproved of by a suave girlfriend and even suaver father. He goes to France, determined to learn better manners even than the French.  To say he moves in a fast set is an understatement, and he certainly surprises the English.  You can read this free at Project Gutenberg.