This was the worst year, and nothing made sense any longer, except when it was the best year, because time for reading seemed to expand like one of those endless summer afternoons when one was in the late stages of grade school. I despised 2020 while also, as a person of solitary disposition, found myself helplessly nodding in agreement with Emma Brockes, who wrote in The Guardian about this plague year: “Let’s face it: some aspect of it has also been the enactment and indulgence of our wildest dreams.” I sense I am like that character in John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” Mr. Facing Both-Ways.
In the first days of the pandemic I was, like many others, too stunned to read at all. The habit returned, but slowly and gingerly. I recall that when Donald Trump was elected, people like me raced to reengage with fiction that might place him in context, novels like Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” and Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America.” (Roth’s novel became an HBO miniseries this year, and I just had to look, having read the book.) (It was OK.) This year critics returned to novels like Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year,” Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Albert Camus’ “The Plague” and Gabriel García Márquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.” These were of real but limited consolation. That others have been through what one is going through is, in times of bitter wind, a real blanket but a thin one. This time we don’t know the ending.
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