We are at the beginning of a frightening and difficult time in America. Though we glimpse—in the overflowing hospitals of Milan, the shuttered plazas of Madrid—that which may come to pass, it is impossible to know just how hard hit the United States will be by the novel coronavirus. This nation has long prided itself on its independence of spirit, its rough courage, its all-too-ready mobilization of defiance—but these virtues (for that is what they are, in the right measure and moment) have no place in a pandemic. Instead, it is our inclination towards kindness, compassion, and generosity—in such short supply of late in the highest office in the land—that we must cultivate with great care, in ourselves and in those close to us.
Now, finally, the moment has come for civility; not the coded version so often whistled for through clenched teeth—deference by any other name—but the civility that recognizes what is common in us all, that names our disposition to help, to share, to see the most vulnerable among us taken care of.
One of the few certainties of the coming weeks is that many people will die from COVID-19, some directly, some because of the additional burden placed on an already unstable, for-profit health system. It can be hard to see the point of art in the face of a global crisis. These stories we make, these books we read… What do they amount to in the presence of suffering?
As the editor of a website about books, I have been asking myself this question for the last ten days, and for the last three years, and was asking it five years ago as we prepared to launch Literary Hub. And the answer has always been the same, in good times and in bad: books are how we bear witness to life, even as they divert us from its darkest days. “We tell stories in order to live,” shopworn quotation it may be, nonetheless rings true, even now. So we keep telling these stories, of memory and justice and history… of pleasure and possibility and hope. (Or maybe you prefer Brecht to Didion: “In the dark times. Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.” Reader, these are dark times.)
Lit Hub will continue publishing the same kinds of stories we always have: nonfiction that gets at the how and what of things, fiction and poetry that gets at the why. Blog posts. Politics. Jokes. Lists (yes, fucking lists). All of it.
But we’ll also be reporting on the way the novel coronavirus is affecting our community. We’ve already featured dispatches from China and Italy (with more to come), and we’ve been keeping track of literary cancellations and other coronavirus-related news. This pandemic will be very tough on writers with new books coming out, and it will be harder still on booksellers. With that in mind we’ll be collating and updating all the ways you can support your local bookstore: ordering books, buying gift certificates, and more. Those of us lucky enough to draw a wage while working from home have a responsibility to those who cannot, so we’ll also be pointing you in the direction of ways to help all the writers (and everyone else) who rely on the fragile gig economy. I wish some of last week’s $1.5 trillion financial sector bump had been set aside for the country’s retail and service industries, but insofar as help seems very slow to be trickling down, we’re going to have to look out for one another.
The imagined dystopias that seem to dominate so much of our popular culture have been accruing in the margins of the real world for a long time. But we can neither bomb nor spend our way out of this pandemic, newly arrived at the center of our lives. So let us set aside for the moment our defiance, our individualism. Let us be kind. And let us be together, if not in body, at least in spirit.
TLDR: Wash your hands. Don’t hoard. Stay home. Read books. Tip 25 percent.