ReadingRoom

Pandemonium!: 5 books to get you through Covid-19

ReadingRoom literary editor Steve Braunias recommends five books to last you through the coming pandemic.

Panic on the streets of Henderson. Panic on the streets of Royal Oak, Northcote, Remuera - the urge to go mad and strip supermarket shelves clean this weekend in response to the first reports of COVID-19 in New Zealand saw householders stock up on food, water, toilet paper and hand sanitisers. But what about books? We could be self-isolated for a long, long time. We'll need something to read. Prepare now, or die of boredom. Here are five books to buy this very second before it's TOO LATE.

1 The Bible

Spoiler alert: Jesus dies for your sins. But so much else happens. Parables, fables, miracles; angels, demons, an anti-Christ; serpents, asses, a golden calf; it's a wonderful and involving read, and it's stood the test of time. It could be just the thing to salve fears and inspire superstitious beliefs in the dark days that lie ahead. See also the Koran.

2 The New Everyday Cookbook by Wattie's Heinz

You've gone to the supermarket, queued for hours, and bought every tin of beans, lentils, spaghetti, peaches, sardines and spam that you could, but what are you going to do with them? It's no use consulting the cookbooks of such as Jamie Oliver and Nadia Lim, with their emphasis on seasonal vegetables and fresh fish. You'll want the bible of tinned food cookbooks. You'll want The New Everyday Cookbook by Wattie's Heinz, which has wonderful uses for tins, sachets, tubes, tubs, bottles, frozen cardboard and other things containing substances which resemble food.

3 Composting: A down-to-earth guide

Fresh vegetables are a possibility if you think it's okay to step outside in your own back yard or apartment balcony. This pocket-sized book, published by Penguin in 2009, is an essential resource for creating and maintaining a composting system. It includes advice on composting toilets. This is going to be useful information for when the government shuts off our water. They will, you know.

4 Civilisation by Steve Braunias

In the long nights of eternal winter that will soon be our dank reality, it'll be nice to indulge in a bit of nostalgia and read about a New Zealand the way it used to be. You won't find a better guide than my award-winning 2011 book, which studied 20 small towns where nothing much ever happened and life was good.

5 War & Peace

I'm reading it at the moment and expect to still be doing so by the end of the year. It's a big book and God it's a good book; it's so easy to read, so accessible, so funny and immersive and true to the lives of men and women. Sometimes I think that all of life is in Tolstoy's masterpiece. Just yesterday I read this passage which made me think of how things will look when COVID-19 lays waste to civilisation: "The wheat left in the fields was burnt up. The marshes were dry. The cattle lowed from hunger, finding nothing to graze on in the sun-baked meadows...As he rode by the pond, where there always used to be dozens of peasant women gossiping, rinsing their linen or beating it with washing bats, Prince Andrey noticed that there was no one by the pond, and that the platform where they used to stand had been torn away, and was floating sideways in the middle of the pond, half under water." Here comes the apocalypse, again.

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