British Columbia

B.C. authors share strategies, thoughts on reading through a pandemic

Books have provided a bit of solace during the pandemic, for the simple fact that many of us have more time on our hands, and also as a way of figuring out our new reality.

Jump into dystopia, or take a complete left turn toward a topic you've never read about

'Try to read something that's really far from what you would normally read,' says author Anakana Schofield. (Fotyma, Shutterstock)

When author Kevin Chong was writing his 2018 novel, The Plague — where a quarantine is imposed on Vancouver after a mysterious illness starts killing residents — he had meant to depict a metaphor rather than an imminent reality.

Looking back, Chong, who teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia, says it is strange to see current events lining up with his fictional world.

Although now, having experienced self-isolation and life during a pandemic, he says he might have written things a little differently. 

"I didn't write a working-from-home scene. I didn't write a 'trying to take care of my four-year-old and teach my classes online,' scene," he told host Gloria Macarenko of CBC's On The Coast

Books have provided a bit of solace during the pandemic, for the simple fact that many of us have more time on our hands, and also as a way of figuring out our new reality.

Peter Ricq, an artist and author of graphic novels, says people are drawn to dystopic fiction because they are intrigued by the idea of past events — especially past horrors — repeating themselves.

"The reason, I think, people are into dystopian stories is because it is something that shows up in history a lot and that we go through quite often," Ricq said.

"We try to learn from our mistakes, but we don't." 

'We're in a high state of anxiety'

For Anakana Schofield, a Giller Prize nominee and author of Bina, the strategy is to pick something totally different from what you would normally read. 

"We're in a high state of anxiety ... try to read something that's really far from what you would normally read, something where you're utterly absorbed in a topic that's as far away from you ... like if you only ever read tractor manuals, try to read a bit of fiction."

And if the actual act of picking up the book and reading it is too difficult, Schofield recommends audiobooks or podcasts. 

Chong says he'll be ordering from his favourite independent bookstores the books of authors who were scheduled to have new releases this spring or had their tours cut short. 

He's also looking forward to seeing how quarantine life will affect writing — and reading — into the future.

"It's such a collective trauma that we all experienced. We might write about it directly or we might find a really interesting metaphor to talk about it, that allows us to see it in a fresh way," he said. 

"It'll be interesting to see how our stories play out two or three years from now."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from On The Coast

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