Under normal circumstances, I am a devoted newshound. While I love the old school print versions, my daily reads also include any number of online websites and blogs. During the recent period of COVID-driven isolation my news consumption has escalated. It turns out that my irresistible urge to stay current is not unusual. Global Web Index recently found that over 80% of U.S. and U.K. consumers were taking in more content since the outbreak.
Part of this increased media consumption may simply be the result of people being stuck at home with more free time. But I think something deeper is going on here. The current pandemic provides ample reason for heightened anxiety today. Reading news to ferret out anything positive might be one of the only ways for us to resolve these unpleasant, anxious feelings. News organizations have long understood the power of anxiety producing content – remember the old line, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Content on tech platforms like Google and Twitter too are specifically designed to keep you engaged and viewing ads. The resulting experience, however, is likely to leave you feeling like you can never quite get enough information.
Over the past few months, many of us have turned to novels to “unplug” from the daily onslaught of news. Some of these titles are pure escapism, taking us to another time and place. Many examine past periods when our country was faced with difficulty and prevailed. Here are some titles to consider for when you are looking for a break from all things COVID.
Eric Hanson – The World According to Garp by John Irving (1978). This coming of age novel about the life and times of TS Garp was written during the political and cultural upheavals of the Nixon administration in the 1970s. The moving and sometimes “fantastical” characters resonate remarkably well during our period of troubles today. Garp was Irving’s first blockbuster novel and won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1980.
Julie Won – The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011). A mild-mannered English retiree reflects on his seemingly untroubled life and is forced into some startling revelations that completely upend his picture of who he is. Not unlike our own brutal self-reflection the last few months and our discovery that what we thought was, sometimes isn’t.
Art Wright – The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1974). This novel follows the battle of Gettysburg from the first-person viewpoints of the leaders on both sides. The narrative explores how the Confederate and Union perspectives differed while at the same time there was a sense of respect for each side. In many wars there is extreme hatred toward the enemy but for the Civil War, this just was not true. A wonderful gripping read!
Anne Doremus – News of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016). Set in 1870, this novel follows Civil War veteran Jefferson Kyle Kidd on his travels to return an orphaned 10-year old girl, previously captured by Indians, to relatives deep in south Texas. Captain Kidd makes his living reading the news of the day to the isolated communities which he passes through. His clientele’s hunger for news and anything that draws them away from their daily struggles echoes today’s experiences. Meanwhile, the deep, caring relationship that develops between an old man and renegade girl offers reassurance in an uncertain world.