Nabokov’s remembrances granted reprieve from the new abnormal and – crucially – guidance on how to navigate it
The early months of Covid-19 were marked by a ubiquitous question in my social circle of fellow writers, AKA the Least Essential Workers: how will this affect books? Friends on Zoom cited 9/11 literature and debated adding face masks to their characters. I was distracted by a more important question: How will books affect me?
I found fault with everything I picked up. John M Barry’s The Great Influenza was too on the nose. Did people in 1918 form book clubs around Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year? (If Barry answers this, let me know in the comments.) Even novels, my usual refuge, seemed irresponsibly escapist. I abandoned books after ten pages and took long walks while mainlining news podcasts. To my credit, I did finish reading a few friends’ novels published in the summer. I hope they read this and appreciate the depths of my generosity.