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Perhaps the best way to grapple with life during a pandemic is to read about one.
Officials at the Forsyth County Public Library say they’ve had to purchase materials—digital materials, that is—to meet increased demands for nonfiction titles about pandemics or fiction titles set in a time of a pandemic.
Two in particular have been sought after by local residents: “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History,” by John M. Barry, and “The Stand,” by Stephen King.
Barry’s book examines the 1918 flu pandemic that infected about a third of the world’s population and killed an estimated 50 million people, including 675,000 in the U.S. (the equivalent of about 2 million today).
The book was published in 2004, but it’s returned to public discourse while the world grapples with the current COVID-19 pandemic, and Barry, a professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, has been more sought after for his analysis and perspective.
“This virus is likely to be around from now on. It's not going away,” Barry told CNN last month. “My hope is natural immunity along with drugs and vaccines will significantly diminish the threat of Covid-19.”
King’s book, first published in 1978, is less useful for understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. It goes to the darkest lengths possible for a pandemic: a strain of the flu developed for use as a biological weapon is accidentally released and kills 99 percent of the world’s population.
King perhaps sensed the potential for the public to conflate the real COVID-19 pandemic and his imagined one in “The Stand.”
“No, coronavirus is NOT like THE STAND,” King posted on Twitter. “It’s not anywhere near as serious. It’s eminently survivable. Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions.”
While some patrons choose to confront the pandemic head-on with their reading, others are instead looking to escape from it by turning to old favorites, according to Jeff Fisher, material services manager with the library.
For example, the library has seen a high volume of checkouts for the Harry Potter series, especially after OverDrive, a free app connected to the library’s digital resources, temporarily made the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,” available for free.
Stephen Kight, deputy director of the library, can relate.
“I’ve been having a great time reading or re-reading books in the terrific classic books section of our eBooks collection,” he said, “which speaks to Jeff’s point about patrons looking for comfort food.”