Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Pandemic book recommendations, from Times critics and readers.,


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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

ImageDaily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.
Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

The F.D.A. authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use in children ages 5 to 11 on Friday. If the C.D.C. signs off as expected, children could start getting their shots as early as Wednesday. About 28 million children in the group will be eligible to receive one-third of the adult dose, with two injections spaced three weeks apart.

In a clinical trial, the vaccine was shown to generate significant protection in children. Experts said that even children who had already had Covid would benefit from the vaccine. About 15 million doses are ready to be shipped immediately, and states began ordering doses last week.

For more: Children are driving Britain’s longest-running Covid surge.

To no one’s surprise, 2020 was the best year for print sales in a decade.

Authors and publishers are finally catching up, as the pandemic and its attendant feelings of loneliness and isolation have started showing up in novels.

The coronavirus is the coda to Sally Rooney’s newest novel, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” out last month. And it’s the backbone of two forthcoming books: “The Sentence,” by Louise Erdrich, and Gary Shteyngart‘s “Our Country Friends”

My colleague, the Times book critic Molly Young, called Shteyngart’s book “the first great Covid-19 novel.” It tells the tale of seven friends (and a nemesis) who gather at a Hudson Valley estate to wait out the pandemic. (Read her glowing review.)

In today’s newsletter, we have four other recommendations for pandemic reads from Molly as well as Dwight Garner, a Times book critic. We’ve also got your suggestions, after nearly 400 of you shared the books that helped them get through the pandemic.

If you’d like to discuss these recommendations and share some of your own, please go to the comments section.

The Chuckling Fingers,” by Mabel Seeley: Escapism alert! This is the book equivalent of hot cocoa. Mabel Seeley is a somewhat-forgotten writer of mysteries from the 1940s, and her best work (this one) has been reissued. Read if you like Agatha Christie, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, secluded lake houses and whodunits. — Molly Young

The Hot Zone,” by Richard Preston: Not in the mood for comfort reading? Scare the daylights out of yourself with this account of the Ebola virus. Stephen King called it ‘One of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read’ — and who am I to argue? You may wish to wear gloves to prevent chapping your fingers from page-turning at warp speed. — Molly Young

Year of Plagues: A Memoir of 2020,” by Fred D’Aguiar: D’Aguiar is a poet who was born in London to Guyanese parents. His memoir is about how he learned he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer, and having to cope with his treatments while also dealing with the era of Covid. His memoir is funny; it’s warm; it’s unnerving; It’s a poet’s book, too, a storm of language. — Dwight Garner

If you’re in the mood for a sweeping, authoritative and prescient thriller (and who isn’t?) about viruses and their potential impacts, I suggest Lawrence Wright’s “The End of October,” which came out in the first flush months of Covid panic. It’s about a world in shock and ruin because of a virus similar to Covid-19. It reads like a rocket, and it is scary, scary, scary. — Dwight Garner

Plague and lockdown stories

“I’ve read many post-apocalyptic books since the pandemic started. The outcome in these books is always more horrific then what we were going through. I was always left feeling relieved at how our world has coped compared to the world in the novels.” — DiAne Thomas Gordon, Memphis

  • A Journal of the Plague Year,” by Daniel Defoe: Whether it’s 1665 or 2021, heroes and villains always emerge during a crisis. Essential workers (whether grave diggers or grocery store employees) will always bear the weight of our collective indifference. And the wealthy will usually escape the worst of any plague (unless their servants bring it into the house). — Shalynn Womack, 63, Nashville

  • Heaven’s Coast,” by Mark Doty: Doty’s tremendous writing on the grief surrounding the death of his longtime partner in the middle of the AIDS crisis helped me begin the process of understanding the tremendous loss of Abby, my girlfriend of eight years, and how to remember her. — Logan B., 26, Houston

  • Early in the pandemic, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, lifted me out of my world of hand washing and sanitizing, and reminded me life (and love) go on even during difficult times, under difficult circumstances. My parents and grandparents are no longer here to tell their stories of endurance and recovery. I needed to hear someone’s story. — Sarah Smith, 63, New Orleans

  • The Great Influenza,” by John M. Barry: Too much of history was repeating itself in my city, and I had to stop frequently (and occasionally cry) as I read about what happened in 1918 and imagined what could happen in 2020. — Ian Korn, 38, Brooklyn, N.Y.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow,” by Amor Towles: It’s about a Russian aristocrat placed under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel who must learn to craft a rich, new life within the confines of the hotel. What has stuck with me is Count Rostov’s philosophy regarding the limitations placed on his previously unfettered life.– Heather Schwartz, 52, Delaware County, N.Y.

  • Weirdly enough, “The Stand,” by Stephen King. As horrible as dealing with Covid has been, the devastating nature of the virus in the book made me feel like we got lucky in comparison. People might be resistant to get the vaccine, but at least our scientists survived long enough to create one. — Mia Wilson, Baltimore

Human resilience and spirituality

What to Know About Covid-19 Booster Shots

The F.D.A. has authorized booster shots for millions of recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are eligible for a booster include people 65 and older, and younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of medical conditions or where they work. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna recipients can get a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second shot at least two months after the first.

Yes. The F.D.A. has updated its authorizations to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they initially received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any one vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is preferable to stick with the same vaccine when possible.

The C.D.C. has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.

The F.D.A. authorized boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The C.D.C. says that group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; grocery store workers.

Yes. The C.D.C. says the Covid vaccine may be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy sites are allowing people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.

“Reading has become a much needed escape for me during the pandemic. It gives me a little break from my bad habit of doom-scrolling. It allows my mind to exist in a different reality for a finite amount of time.” — Steph Hart, 32, Nashville

  • Parable of the Talents,” by Octavia Butler: It reminded me of the resiliency of humanity, and how even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, goodness and idealism can win out. — Corey Pajka, 38, Brooklyn, N.Y.

  • The Count of Monte Cristo,” by Alexandre Dumas: It showed the resilience and determination of a man who was forced into isolation for long periods of time. — Shankar Swamy, Weston, Fla.

  • The Bible“: I read it most days. It has the answer to life’s problems. It gives Hope. — David Welford, 75, New Zealand

  • “The Lord of the Rings,” by J. R. R. Tolkien: “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” — Erika Kinkead, East Palestine, Ohio

Escapism and old favorites

“I found myself drawn to historical fiction about the Tudor era. I saw so many similarities to our own time! A charismatic and problematic political figure? A mysterious plague-like illness killing people? And yet, those people survived.”– Heather, 37, Houston

  • I’ve slowly been working my way through the “Harry Potter” series for the first time. I’m so glad I’ve saved it until now. It’s such a lovely, lighthearted escape from everything that is going on in the world. That’s all I need right now. — Brook, 42, Sydney, Australia

  • I needed escape. I needed mystery. I needed wonderful characters. I found all that in the Louise Penny‘s Chief Inspector Gamache novels! I’m just about to start her newest one. I can’t wait! — Lyn Banghart, 72, Easton, Md.

  • I always loved Agatha Christie’s mysteries, so I decided to read them all again. It’s like spending time with a treasured old friend. — Barbara Sloan, Conway, S.C.

  • The Magic Mountain,” by Thomas Mann. I have read this book at least once a decade throughout my adult life, and it always resonates in a different way. But this time, during the initial lockdown here in Italy where I live, the book’s portrayal of the distortion of time corresponded perfectly with the way I felt. — Gail Roberts, 59, Rome

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Jonathan Wolfe contributed to today’s newsletter.

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