Oh, look! Now she's showing off about the books she's read...

On my bookshelf:

1. Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill (nonfiction; a line from the book: Painting also responded to the plague-darkened vision of the human condition provoked by repeated exposure to sudden, inexplicable death. Tuscan painters, for instance, reacted against Giotto's serenity, preferring sterner, hieratic portrayals of religious scenes and figures. The "Dance of Death" became a common theme for art; and several other macabre motifs entered the European repertory.)

2. A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (one scholastic review describes it as "a work of fiction masquerading as a work of fact" - it's set in London, in 1665; this author is best known for giving the world Robinson Crusoe)

3. Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy (nonfiction - it's about rabies, a centuries-old horror; a line from the first chapter reads: Rabies is a scourge as old as human civilization, and the terror of its manifestation is a fundamental human fear, because it challenges the boundary of humanity itself. That is, it troubles the line where man ends and animal begins...)

4. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter (collection of 3 short stories - this is one the few works of fiction hinged on the 1918 Spanish Flu. The reason there are so few is because this pandemic overlapped with the first World War, a far more storied event of the 20th century)

5. Rats, Lice and History by Hans Zinsser (nonfiction)

6. Pox: Genius, Madness, And The Mysteries Of Syphilis by Deborah Hayden (nonfiction)

7. Malaria by Giovanni Verga (short story, fiction, Italian)

8. The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century by William Rosen (nonfiction)

9. The Foul and the Fragrant – Odor & the French Social Imagination

 by Alain Corbin (nonfiction; to put it crudely, it's a beautiful account of the stink of 18th century Paris!)

10. Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 by John Robert McNeill (nonfiction)

Special Mention:

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (fiction; it's a delightful 14th century Italian novel, set around Florence, comprising 100 ridiculously charming short stories). 

'Plague Lit' Recommendations:

I've always loved reading books, but since March 2020 this habit took on an intense role - part escapism, part self preservation, part narrative prophylaxis, part education. Outside of work, I didn't up-skill or re-skill. I just read and read and read like a mad person. It became a way to iron out my brain at the end of a long day, and gave me something stimulating to do on weekends. I became a lazy, boring and myopic indoor enthusiast.

But, the other day, a friend - (who hates reading, by the way!) - made me realise I am sitting on some brilliant recommendations. I've never written about books but since it's such a big part of who I am and what I do with my time, I am going to take my friend's suggestion and share some titles here. All these books are about past pandemics and epidemics. These are all non-fiction (except #6) books I've read cover to cover and personally recommend.

Some people on Twitter call this genre 'sick lit' (a pun on 'chick lit', I take it), but I don't subscribe to that term; I find it a touch reductive for such a serious genre - know what I mean?

Also, this genre might not be everyone's cup of tea, especially so soon after a global public health crisis. But for me, it was a goldmine of information about our strange, frightening and dark past - recent and remote. If you like reading about human history, biology, war, famine and medicine, you will really enjoy reading, or at the very least, exploring, these titles.

1. Pox: An American History by Michael Willrich (about small pox - last century)

2. And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts

3. Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present by Frank M Snowden

4. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry 

5. A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518 by John Waller 

6. The Plague by Albert Camus (originally written in French - La Peste; this one's fiction. I don't read or speak French, so I read the English translation)

7. The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

8. Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (it's a detailed account of the 1920s encephalitis lethargica epidemic or 'sleeping sickness' as it was known back then, that followed World War I; there's a Robert De Niro movie by the same name)

9. Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire by William Rosen (back in the 6th century!)

10. Special mention: 

The Graves Are Walking by John Kelly (it's about Ireland's 19th century potato famine) 

Mental Health-related reading:

Craft-related reading - books about writers and writing, editors and editing: