The pandemic books have arrived. Some are specifically about the pandemic, some incorporate coronavirus into their plots, some are memoirs, some are fiction. Are we ready for them? Or is it still too soon?
I say it’s not too soon. I just finished My Beautiful Terrible Pandemic Life, a collection of essays, poems and “micro-memoirs” about life in the early days of the pandemic, written by a mother of five in Washington, DC named Amy Suardi. She writes about what it was like to be home with five kids, from first grade to senior year of high school, as they navigated online school, watched their calendars empty out one event after another, observed milestones from their bedrooms and dealt with the fear and uncertainty that surrounded us all in those first few months. Suardi is a beautiful writer, in both style and content, and I found it reassuring and even inspiring to read her observations, just as doing so also brought me back to the emotions I felt when the quarantine was so new.
Suardi covers a lot of ground in this collection: letting go of teenagers as they prepared to go off to college, white guilt and responsibility for systemic racism, the constant need for affirmation and the conflicted relief we felt when the opportunities for affirmation were wiped off the calendar, finding beauty in the gardens and nature that replaced sports and playgrounds, and so much more. I found her essays, with their painstaking chronicling of the details of pandemic life (which kids did which chores on which days, for example) to be fascinating and soothing at the same time. I kept imagining all of these houses with people trying to figure out how to get by, lined up on the streets and neighborhoods around me. What strange times those were. Her title is a great encapsulation of the conflicting emotions she felt; the relief/guilt, joy/sadness, stress/boredom, crowding/loneliness.
As the pandemic roars back with omicron and new closures and the same fears we had in spring 2020, My Beautiful Terrible Pandemic Life feels less like a memoir and more like a real-time blog. It’s a strange time to be reading it, but in many ways it’s the perfect time, because Suardi’s thoughts from last year can provide a salve and a guidebook for living through this current wave.
Full confession: Suardi is a close friend from college. I rarely review books by people I know, because above all I always want to review books honestly and objectively. But I had read some of the chapters of Suardi’s book on her blog last year, and when she released this collection, I eagerly snapped it up. I wouldn’t have reviewed positively here if I didn’t honestly love it.
My Beautiful Terrible Pandemic Life was book #56 of 2021.