In May 2020, CHH ran a virtual book club themed around pandemics. For those who are interested, our reading list can be found below. Participants met regularly to discuss the books during the first UK lockdown, and many fascinating conversations came out of these texts.
CHH Virtual Book Club 2020:
Following your excellent suggestions, we elaborated the below book and film programme
based on clear desires to read illness narratives in the time of Covid-19.
Bonus books and films have been added to increase accessibility concerning the availability of the
below texts. The vast majority are available online as e-books (GoogleBooks and Kindle). Those (as
far as we can see) which are not available online have been asterisked.
The order of books is tentative, and it can be changed to match your reading cravings and book
prioritisations. There are also a lot of books and weeks to show the scope of options; we will not
have enough time to finish all, so if there are weeks that are particularly tempting, then let the CHH
know so we can adjust the programme order.
We can run book club sessions every two weeks or longer, depending on your schedules. Doodle
polls will be sent out to book these sessions. There are no obligations to finish the books; reading an
introduction or 1-2 chapters (even a plot synopsis: no judgment here) are more than enough.
Week One: Current Pandemic Discourses
Introduction and Chapter 1 (available on GoogleBooks):
Pandemics, Publics, and Narratives (2020) by Mark Davis and Davina Lohm.
Week Two: Plague Narratives I
The Plague (1947) by Albert Camus
Week Three: Plague Narratives II
A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) by Daniel Defoe
Week Four: The Plague in Italy
Chapters 31-33 (Plague) of The Betrothed (1827) by Alessandro Manzoni.
Bonus: Italian TV Mini-Series I Promessi Sposi (1989) and *Carlo M. Cipolla’s body of work on medical
history: Cristofano and the Plague: A Study in the History of Public Health in the Age of Galileo (1973)
and Public Health and the Medical Profession in the Renaissance (1976), and Fighting the Plague in
Seventeenth-Century Italy (1981).
Week Five: The Spanish Flu
Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World (1917) by Laura Spinney.
Bonus Fiction: Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939) by Katherine Anne Porter
Week Six: Flu Dystopias
Station Eleven (2014) by Emily St John Mandel
Bonus: The Transmigration of Bodies (2013) by Yuri Herrera
Week Seven: Flu epidemics and social (dis)order
Severance (2018) by Ling Ma
Bonus: Blindness (1997) by José Saramago
Week Eight: Doctors versus infectious diseases (plus romance)
Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) by Gabriel García Márquez.
Bonus: slim, satirical novella, The Alienist (1882) by Machado de Assis paints a darkly humorous
portrait of a doctor who starts to see illness (madness) spreading throughout his town.
Extra bonus: see the 2007 Mike Newell film adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera.
Week Nine: The HIV/AIDS Epidemic
Documentary film: How to Survive a Plague (2012) directed by David France.
Memoir: Modern Nature (1991) by Derek Jarman.
Week Ten: History of Pandemics
The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris (2019) by Mark
n.b. a new edition will be published later this year with a chapter on Covid-19.
By Rebecca Rosenberg