Immersive Reading for Our Year of the Plague

Lee Polevoi


If the global coronavirus pandemic is good for anything, it’s how we may rediscover the experience of immersive reading. With millions in the United States and around world who are confined to their homes, finding a short story collection, novel, or nonfiction tome that transports us to new, vibrant worlds can provide us with a blissful way to while away the hours.


“Immersive” can mean books of great length or short stories you can read in an afternoon. The books listed here are immersive in the best sense, bringing some hope and color back into our lives.


In all of these immersive, literary works, we can enjoy illumination as well as respite from the imperiled times in which we live.




Short Stories

“I am young, and the young do not number many here, but it is fair to say we have the run of the place.” So begins Colin Barrett’s stunning collection, Young Skins, set in modern-day Ireland. In and around the rural village of Glanbeigh, the youth of the day drink and party, brawl and love each other imperfectly. The characters are flawed but sympathetic, the language stellar.


In Homesick for Another World, Otessa Moshfegh offers short stories that “are remarkably piercing and consistent in their depiction of loneliness, corrosive relationships, and failed ambition.” They are also funny in the ways in which laughter catches in your throat.


The subtle, textured stories in Daniyal Mueenuddin’s collection, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, are set in the towns and drawing rooms of Pakistan—light-years away from life in the U.S. The stories offer sparkling language and insights into the human condition.



Reaching back in time, and in a remote corner of the globe, The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey takes place in 19th-century Australia. The famed outlaw Ned Kelly tells the story of his life as a hero and bushranger in a wonderfully crafted and utterly unique dialect. This novel is unlike any other, and once read, resides in the mind forever after.


In his hypnotic novel, The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje transports readers to the docks of Colombo in the 1950s, and a young boy’s journey by sea to England.


Another spellbinding novel, also set in and around the Antipodes, is Shirley Hazzard’s immortal The Transit of Venus. In poetic language almost too beautiful to bear, Hazzard charts the lives of orphan sisters, spanning London and Sydney, New York, and Stockholm. In her telling, “Purple silence petrified the limbs of trees and stood crops upright in the fields like hair on end.”




Truman Capote’s classic, In Cold Blood, depicts the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, and is suffused with his singular and eerie lyricism: “The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as graceful as Greek temples are visible long before a visitor reaches them.”


Rick Atkinson’s Guns at Last Light is a definitive rendering of the last years of World War II. His account encompasses the D-Day invasion through the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge to the apocalyptic conquest of wartime Berlin—in vivid, often dazzling prose. This is how history is meant to be written.


Author Bio:


Lee Polevoi, chief book critic of Highbrow Magazine, is the author of The Moon in Deep Winter, a novel.


For Highbrow Magazine


Image Sources:


--Vittorio Reggianini painting


--Google images


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