Oedipus Rex (Sophocles, c. 429 BCE): A leader attempts to end a plague that his own inattention has made significantly worse. He is not good at it. A lot of people die.

Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare, c. 1597): Two teens are ordered by their parents to remain socially distant from one another. They do not listen. A lot of people die.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813): People voluntarily visit one another in dangerous conditions knowing it will make them fall ill. This is supposed to improve their economic standing somehow.

“The Masque of the Red Death” (Edgar Allan Poe, 1842): A once prosperous country’s likely insane ruler ignores the outbreak of a disease that has killed the poor in disproportionate numbers, ordering everyone to disregard it and gather as normal. A lot of people die.

Walden (Henry David Thoreau, 1854): A man desires to commune with nature after wearying of the indoors, but the closest he comes is camping out in his friend’s backyard.

Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert, 1856): With only her novels for company during a period of physical and emotional isolation, a young woman is moved to sleep with the first available candidate.

Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1866): A young man decides it would be worthwhile to kill his landlady after spending far too much time in a cramped apartment that he can barely afford.

The Invisible Man (H. G. Wells, 1897): A backwater learns to despise the one man who understands science enough to avoid being seen in public.

In Search of Lost Time (Marcel Proust, 1913–1927): While the narrator is stuck in his bedroom for a prolonged period, everything about the way life used to be comes flooding back to him in vivid detail.

The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka, 1915): A traveling salesman self-quarantines after contracting a mysterious disease. He and his family grow steadily less knowable to one another the longer they spend apart. Meanwhile, his boss harasses him about returning to work.

The Worm Ouroboros (E. R. Eddison, 1922): All the bullshit of this life never ends and we’re stuck in it forever because the ruling class enjoys it. A lot of people die.

The Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann, 1924): A young man learns to do nothing for months at a time while a poorly-understood illness ravages the patients of a mountaintop clinic, allegorically exposing the irreparable rot at the core of modern society. A lot of people die.

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925): A man who has made an absurd amount of money throws huge, unlawful parties at his estate. People die.

Finnegans Wake (James Joyce, 1939): Nobody has any idea what this book is about, even now. Sorry.

The Plague (Albert Camus, 1947): A mysterious disease afflicts a city’s residents while Fascist takeover lingers in the background. A lot of people die.

Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller, 1949): A wannabe capitalist decides that working and dying are the only suitable options for the labor force.

Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett, 1953): Two isolated companions wait for something to happen. Nothing does. Somebody misplaces a watch—to no real detriment, because time is without meaning.

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, 1967): A series of poor decisions force an entire community into a century of insularity before it eventually disappears from the face of the earth.


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