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When the world shut down and people were forced to stay indoors and look within, many authors got to work on new manuscripts. What were writers contemplating during those long months of uncertainty and isolation? And how will their meditations shape the world to come? We are now starting to get answers to these questions as pandemic-penned titles flood bookstores, with subject matter ranging from the origins of COVID-19 to consumerism, cultural criticism and cults. Here are six rousing titles borne of this new era.

These Precious Days: Essays, Ann Patchett (Harper, 320 pages) “The first time I remember seriously thinking about my own death, I was twenty-six years old and working on my first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars.” So begins this deep dive into the joy and pain of everyday life from famed American novelist Ann Patchett. The compelling collection is bookended by Essays Don’t Die, a piece about Patchett outsmarting her fear of mortality, and A Day at the Beach, about her friendship with a terminally ill woman during the pandemic. In between, there are tales of Patchett’s three fathers, her husband’s obsession with flying planes, her urge to purge belongings and reject consumerism – and much more. A singular and satisfying read.

Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy, Batya Ungar-Sargon (Encounter Books, 312 pages) Newsweek is home to one of the most dynamic and diverse opinion sections in North America, offering robust discussion and debate on everything from vaccine mandates to cancel culture. So many were waiting for this ambitious debut from the outlet’s deputy opinion editor. In Bad News, Batya Ungar-Sargon takes a critical look at the progressive politics shaping much of mainstream media coverage today, arguing that the “woke” worldview that rose to prominence during COVID-19 utilizes a moral panic on race to obfuscates the real divide in America – class. Thoroughly researched and brilliantly argued, Bad News is a fresh perspective on the current moment. A must read.

Free Speech and Why It Matters, Andrew Doyle (Little, Brown, 144 pages) British comic Andrew Doyle initially found fame with his social justice warrior Twitter parody, Titania McGrath. But he’s since become known as a crusader for free speech, a critic of the far left and the TV host of Free Speech Nation. In his thoughtful, well-argued and well-written polemic, published last year in the U.K. and due out here in February, Doyle walks through key arguments in favour of free speech. He makes a convincing argument that the erosion of speech rights we’ve witnessed in recent years is destructive for democracy and human rights – and awful for art.

A State of Fear: How the UK Government Weaponised Fear During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Laura Dodsworth (Pinter & Martin, 320 pages) In this intriguing book, British journalist and photographer Laura Dodsworth focuses on the United Kingdom’s first year of the pandemic and why the public became so frightened. Weaving together commentary from ordinary citizens with interviews with scientists, lawyers, psychologists and politicians, Dodsworth lays out a case that the government deliberately stoked fears to encourage compliance with health measures. And, she warns, that strategy could be deployed easily for other issues in the future.

Sex Cult Nun: Breaking Away from the Children of God, a Wild, Radical Religious Cult, Faith Jones (HarperCollins, 400 pages) This memoir from Children of God survivor Faith Jones is not always an easy read. The coming-of-age narrative chronicles the author’s disturbing childhood in the cult her grandfather founded, and how she finally found freedom. Still, it proves a fascinating read for anyone interested in cults and how they operate.

The Day the World Stops Shopping, J.B. MacKinnon (Random House Canada, 352 pages) In this unique thought experiment, Vancouver author J.B. MacKinnon, best known for The 100-Mile Diet, ponders what would happen if people spontaneously opted out of consumerism. One of the more interesting moments in this Governor-General’s Awards finalist comes when MacKinnon meditates on the tradition of the Sabbath and how the pandemic reintroduced non-scheduled, non-commercial time back into people’s daily lives and consciousness.

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