Updated: Oct 23, 2020
Will you read a book about a pandemic, released in a pandemic?
I once went to a conference where a panel got into a very heated discussion about whether it was better to read books similar to the season — or opposite the season.
For instance, do you like to read winter books in the winter? Do you appreciate absorbing The Children’s Blizzard, The Snow Child, or Snow Falling on Cedars when the wind is frigid and ice crystals ping against the windows? Can you relate more to the setting of a novel if you’re experiencing similar weather conditions?
Or do you love escaping from your current situation by reading the opposite situation? In the midst of a cold, dreary winter, do you read about heat and sunny climates? Do you want to feel the sun shining on you in tropical locales? Maybe read Under the Tuscan Sun, Clive Cussler’s Sahara, or A Thousand Splendid Suns while the snow flies outside?
Funny. Years after that literary debate, I still think of it and wonder whether most people want to be in sync with their surroundings or escape from them.
Do people tend to read books written about similar events — or do they tend to want to escape them and read anything BUT the current troubles?
Consider the current Coronavirus crisis. Then consider the luck of Chris Bohjalian, whose book The Red Lotus about a fictional global pandemic, was ready to be released right when an actual global pandemic came to the forefront.
As an avid reader, writer, and person with an intense interest in the book industry, I’m curious whether the simultaneous unfolding of a real-life tragedy has helped his book or hurt it.
I wish I was an industry insider to get statistics on what the publishers projected for this book versus how it’s actually selling. More than anticipated? Less than expected? I wish I could be the proverbial “fly on the wall” to hear his publishers talk about whether sales are up or down. If they’re down, is it attributed to the closing of bookstores as non-essential businesses or the fact that people just don’t want to read thrillers about global pandemics right now?
If sales are up from what was anticipated, is it because people are fascinated by the way that fact and fiction are often juxtaposed? That they want to see how pandemics work from a story-point-of-view?
The plot of The Red Lotus
Alexis, an ER doctor and Austin Harper, a charismatic man who works in her hospital’s fund-raising department become romantically involved after Alexis patches Austin up when he appears in her ER. More than six months into their intensifying relationship, they go on a bike tour to Vietnam.
When Austin fails to appear after a solo ride, Alexis begins an exhausting search for the truth of what really happened, uncovering secrets and surprises the entire way and eventually exposing the creation of a deadly contagion meant to be sold to the highest bidder.
The book has depth. The characters are all three-dimensional with fundamental flaws. Alexis has a history that’s caused anxiety issues and some disturbing behavior. Austin Harper — charming, fit, and attractive — may not be what he appears to be, possessing deeply entrenched character flaws not visible to the naked eye.
Add to the cast of characters a strained mother-daughter relationship, a grieving Private Investigator, and thousands of lab rats, and you’ve got a fascinating, page-turner for modern times.
Seemingly at random, Bohjalian inserts chapters detailing the use of rats in virology studies. These breaks in the narrative action are spoken by an unknown character, indicated by italics, and continued throughout the book until the speaker is revealed at the end. It’s a technique that increases curiosity, credibility, and dramatic tension.
Maybe I’m twisted…I’m a definite dive-in kind of girl
When I saw that a book about a global pandemic was being released by an author I liked, I knew I wanted to read it. I thought:
“That’s timely. How did he know to write about that? Is he LUCKY that his topic is so relevant or UNLUCKY because the reality of his topic will turn readers away?”
Sadly, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Chris Bohjalian is a best-selling American author of twenty novels, as well as a journalist, screenwriter, and playwright.
I’ve enjoyed them all. After all, I read for sheer pleasure and the thrill of a good plot.
If you can stand to “dive-in” rather than escape…
If you can face up to words like pathogen and pandemic right now instead of running, kicking and screaming from harsh reality…
If you want a rollicking good read even though the parallels between fact and fiction are a bit creepy, don’t avoid diving into The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian.
Dive into more articles about great reads in Book Talk.