The world of publishing chases trends with the frantic avidity of a tweenager collecting POGs and this season the word on everyone’s lips is CORONAVIRUS. Yes, the book world has gone COVID-crazy! Manuscripts are being sent back with requests to make them ‘more plaguey’ and top authors are racing to complete the definitive epic of our cough-riddled times. Your half-arsed cultural critic caught up with some of these luminaries via a series of awkward Zooms. (The first 20 minutes of each conversation, explaining that actually, as writers, we enjoy social isolation, have been edited for length and clarity.)
JOSHUA PRETZEL, the bad-boy wunderkind of American letters, has written Wet Market, the definitive look at online dating in times of sickness. The Brooklyn whizzkid hasn’t let an inability to leave his apartment prevent him from exploring his addiction to soul-destroying hook-ups, and the result is a savage, feral, uninhibited and monstrous indictment of a culture gone sexwrong. It has a nipple on the cover and as well as all the rude bits there’s a bit where he thinks about History. Essential stuff.
AUBREY BEESTON, the self-styled ‘cuddliest man in letters’, has written a heartwarming book of COVID-chuckles, entitled Have a Sit Down, Love, You Look Proper Peaky. Described by his publishers as ‘the ultimate deathbed pick-me-up’ the tome contains a list of his favourite biscuits, treasured words from his beloved Wordivarium and a new poem, We Can’t Spell Corona in Barnsley. The cover is in a specially designed plush to allow readers to literally hug the book, although unfortunately one in ten of these covers have been dipped in the coronavirus by mistake.
PHOTOGENICA MONEYSHIRE follows up her prize-nabbing debut The Long Bus Home to Peckham with COVID: Metamorphoses, a series of lambent, piercing and haunting meditations on a few months sitting indoors. Illustrated with grainy black-and-white photographs of herself and Susan Sontag, the book is a powerful, stark and expensive addition to the literature of ill-health. ‘Perhaps we were all already so many isolated selves,’ she concludes. ‘Perhaps the faces we wore were already so many masks.’ Still, she finds comfort in owning a massive garden and on page 23 there’s a photo of her in a pond.
BEN NORTHMAN, the dour face of provincial haunty woo, has penned another gritty story about a moorlands ghost, only this time it symbolises a virus and not Brexit. ‘Deadly pandemics won’t make much difference to Hebden Bridge,’ he tells us through his beard. ‘Folks here are in touch with ley-lines and chthonic atavisms and that. Most of us welcome a bit of disease, keeps us in touch with our primal untamed…’ Sadly he was interrupted by his mum shouting that his tea was ready, but the book looks gripping stuff.
In an eagerly awaited cash-grab, the scripts to the popular sitcom FLEABAG have been republished, with all of the sexually profligate rodent-owning heroine’s dialogue replaced by increasingly panicked coughs. Fleabag: COVID Edition is out soon, priced at £149.99. Waterstones Piccadilly have sportingly agreed to convert their cafe into a sanatorium to mark its release. Staff will wear special hats.
MICK HAKE, the book world’s Mr. Well-Being, had to cancel his ‘Give Yourself A Cuddle’ tour when the virus took hold, but has rushed to print with Plagues Are People Too, a children’s book aimed at adults, telling the story of a misfit microbe who is bullied by the other germs before being welcomed into a local retirement village. Sadly, the put-upon virus finds his new friends short-lived and sets out around the country looking for new people to play with. The result is described by its publishers as ‘mawkish and grisly in equal measure.’ Netflix has been making noises.
In America, staff of publishing behemoth Rudley and Felcher walked out after learning the firm had signed the memoirs of THE CORONAVIRUS ITSELF. Described as honest, surprisingly witty and capable of bringing about the end of human life as we know it, the book details the controversial lurgy’s childhood in Wuhan, as well as its celebrity encounters (some of them fatal!) but the chapter ‘vaccines are dicks’ is believed to be attracting the attention of lawyers.
It all adds up to COVID-mania in the normally sedate world of letters. If you have a book that isn’t about the coronavirus, this column’s advice is to shove it in the bin, then set the bin on fire, then set fire to the house in which you keep the bin. Disease is having a moment and, unlike previous trends, this one isn’t going out of fashion any day soon.