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Books to Read in Quarantine by Prema Arasu

SFF Collective facilitator and past recipient of the Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship, Prema Arasu, brings you a list of suggested books to read during quarantine. Let us know which book you picked up during this period, and whether they inspire or surprise.

An photograph or scanning of a very old painting called The Decameron by John William Waterhouse
The Decameron by John William Waterhouse via Wikimedia Commons

The Birth of the Clinic & Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault

These two theory books by self-described social archaeologist Michel Foucault are foundational texts in the study of biopower and biopolitics. Foucault argues that social institutions such as hospitals, schools, prisons all serve similar roles in reinforcing power structures, and a chapter in Discipline and Punish specifically addresses the power relations at play in the context of quarantine and the panopticon.

The Plague by Albert Camus

This book by absurdist writer Camus is set during an outbreak of plague in French Algeria. When read with the contextual knowledge that Camus worked for the French Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris, the meaning of the plague takes on new meaning.

Fictions of Disease in Early Modern England: Bodies, Plagues and Politics by Margaret Healy

Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the language used to describe the outbreak of the black plague in Early Modern England and highlights the insidious ways in which the word ‘plague’ became associated with the notion of social and moral decay, inseparable from its physiological effects.

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

The wealthy Prince Prospero avoids the mysterious ‘Read Death’ by shutting himself in a castle with his aristocrat friends and holding a lavish masquerade party. It doesn’t go well for him.

The Decameron by Boccaccio

A collection of a hundred stories told within the frame narrative of a group of young Florentines who have left the plague-afflicted city for the country where they intend to wait it out. Boccaccio, who lived in 14th-Century Italy, would surely have witnessed the effects of the Black Death firsthand.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A post-apocalyptic novel set in a world in which the world’s population has been devastated by a deadly influenza virus.

The Literary Culture of Plague in Early Modern England by Kathleen Miller

A history of the literature that emerged peripheral to the 1665 Great Plague of London. This monograph provides insights into how contemporaries viewed the plague through different paradigms and understandings of disease.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

Published in 1772, Defoe’s novel is a first-person account of the 1665 Great Plague of London and treads the line between fiction and non-fiction.

Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: A History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians by Richard Sugg

A horrifying history of the use of human body parts in western medicine, and the underlying beliefs used to rationalise these practices.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A love story and one of the first works of magic realism which draws parallels between infatuation and disease.

White Noise by Don DeLillo

An industrial disaster called ‘The Airborne Toxic Event’ forces the protagonist and his family out of their homes, and they must come to terms with their inevitable deaths.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

This classic sci-fi novel, set in a post-apocalyptic world where only a few remain, is a cutting satire of the nuclear arms race, organised religion, and scientism.

Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag

Philosopher and activist Susan Sontag makes a compelling argument against the metaphorical representation of disease. Sontag later wrote a similar book on the AIDS epidemic.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

The first book in Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy is set in a post-apocalyptic bio-dystopia. The fall of humanity via horrific abuses of pharmaceuticals and bioengineering is gradually revealed through a series of flashbacks as the protagonist, Snowman, makes the journey back to the research facility where it all started.

Necropolitics by Achille Mbembe

Drawing upon the theory of his predecessor, Michel Foucault, Mbembe critiques the ‘nocturnal body’ of democracy and the global power structures that determine whose lives are worth saving.

The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Published in 1826 but set in 2073, the author of Frankenstein’s less well-known novel is about a world ravaged by plague. The three main characters are commonly interpreted as fictionalised versions of Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley herself.


Thumbnail: The Decameron by John William Waterhouse via Wikimedia Commons
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