Day 6

Your pandemic reading list: Becky Toyne recommends these books to see you through self-isolation

Reading has become a popular way to ease anxiety during the pandemic. Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne has several book recommendations to see you through, from actual pandemic-based stories to non-fiction that will help heal the soul.

Day 6's books columnist suggests a variety of genres to help escape the realities of the pandemic

Mackenzie Robertson prepares orders of books for shipment at Octopus Books in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The store has now closed their doors due to the pandemic, but they are working to fill online orders. (.Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Like most other business owners, Ian Elliot has closed his bookstore in Burlington, Ont., because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But he's still selling books via telephone and email, and has observed a renewed thirst for reading as people spend most if not all of their time indoors.

"The catharsis of reading a great novel or the rewards of reading a great narrative history, I think those are needed more than ever right now," said Elliot, owner of the A Different Drummer Books store.

"With people in confinement and detached from those they want to be with ... I believe that's the need we're addressing when we sell books right now."

Books can be a comfort and an escape, and with that in mind Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne has a list of reading recommendations to help see you through the days of staying home and self-isolating.

Books about pandemics or similar crises

For those who want to read about a pandemic while experiencing a pandemic, Toyne recommends the newly released Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz.

The book is about a fictional coronavirus pandemic that takes place in 2020, which originated in China and has similar results to the current pandemic — self-isolation, economic collapse and racist backlash against the Asian community.

She just did a tonne of research into coronaviruses and into all of the projections that existed about possible pandemics that could happen.- Becky Toyne, Day 6 books columnist

It was supposed to launch in August, but given the obvious timeliness of the story Penguin Random House Canada decided to release it early in ebook form. The print edition is still on target to hit stores in August.

"Some of the characters in this story are essentially doing what we have all done over the course of the last month. They're being told if they've been travelling outside the country or if they have been in contact with anyone who's known to have the virus, they're self-isolating for 14 days. They're freaking out," said Toyne.

According to Toyne, the book's timing is coincidental — if a little eerie.

"[Nawaz] just did a tonne of research into coronaviruses and into all of the projections that existed about possible pandemics that could happen. And she just figured out what the process would be and how it would happen and how it might affect the economy," explained Toyne.

For those who prefer print editions to ebooks, Toyne also recommends Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waub Rice and Radicalized by Cory Doctorow. 

Books to help you heal

In her new memoir, journalist Tara Henley recounts taking a step back to re-evaluate her life and priorities after a stressful life in the newsroom, working long hours, became too much.

"This was actually somewhat serendipitously timed for publication at the end of March," Toyne said of Henley's book Lean Out: A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life."

"It's only been out a couple of weeks and ended up being published within a week or two of us all being told to go home."

There was so much in this book that I just felt like, yes, this is exactly what I needed to read right now.- Toyne on Tara Henley's Lean Out: A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life 

Henley turned to many of the same activities people are doing now. "She meditates and she takes walks in the woods. … She learns to cook. She becomes really good at cooking. And she reads endlessly," said Toyne.

Henley also re-evaluated the amount of time she spent on her phone and online. 

"I think that's something people are also thinking about, how you don't want to spend so much time on a screen. And so what are we doing? We're baking bread. We're cooking. We're all thinking about planting our garden. So there was so much in this book that I just felt like, yes, this is exactly what I needed to read right now," explained Toyne.

Toyne says Lean Out is in the same vein as Malcolm Gladwell's Talking to Strangers, a book she says she's been thinking about a lot lately.

Mark Bourrie is the 2020 winner of the RBC Taylor Prize. (CBC)

Escaping into history

Toyne's final recommendation is Mark Bourrie's Bush Runner, which is about 17th century French explorer Pierre-Esprit Radisson, for whom the hotel chain is named.

"I think there's also something very comforting about retreating to the past and reading a historical novel, or a book of history where you can kind of go and find everything just as you left it, because it's already happened and it's in the past," said Toyne.

It was just a wildly entertaining read. And it's Canadian history. So you're learning something as well at the same time.- Toyne on Mark Bourrie's Bush Runner

The book won the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction.

"It is a fascinating, funny, at times very gruesome and violent, but nevertheless wildly entertaining story of an adventurer who Mark Bourrie describes as being kind of the Forrest Gump of his time," explained Toyne.

"He obviously just had a thirst for adventure and loyalty to nobody and a hunger to see the world," said Toyne. "I just found that it was just a wildly entertaining read. And it's Canadian history. So you're learning something as well at the same time."

She added that Bush Runner is the kind of conversational narrative non-fiction that would appeal to anyone who likes Charlotte Gray's Gold Diggers or Murdered Midas, or Empire of Deception by Dean Jobb. 

Written and produced by Laurie Allan.

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