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The best writing about the world we’re now living in

Edwina Throsby, Head of Talks & Ideas, on reading thoughtfully during the pandemic

Edwina Throsby
Head of Talks & Ideas

Being in lockdown has meant that we’ve all had time to think. And think. And think. But thinking hasn’t always been easy. Particularly at the beginning, I found I was reading possibly thousands of articles about coronavirus an hour, but I could only manage a couple of pages of a novel before I was distracted. Or asleep. It turns out that, ironically, I wasn’t alone.

Enforced stillness, forced connections

In this piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Charlotte Wood finds mental space by making order of her physical surroundings. And in a Guardian article which charts her emotional and cognitive progression through isolation, Brigid Delaney realises that enforced stillness has its benefits. 

But people are saying we’re more connected than ever, although I’m not sure how sustainable it was when we still couldn’t meet face-to-face. My favourite long-form read about this comes from Katharine Smyth for The Paris Review, who examines her loneliness by considering her efforts to connect with other people during the pandemic.

Does the world not need my restaurant anymore?

Of course, not everyone has been fortunate enough to have the sort of financial and domestic security that has enabled this sort of introspection. 

I have a lot of friends who work in hospitality, who had businesses they’d loved and nurtured and poured their lives and souls into collapse overnight. They’ve had to sack staff they love like family and confront the need to start all over again.

This article for the New York Times by legendary New York restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton describes all of these emotions, as well as considering the profound role of restaurants in our lives and economies, both before and after the crisis. 

And while we’re still in New York, where I used to live and which I still love, this piece of first-person journalism from staff writers at the New Yorker is stunning and moving. I predict it will go down as a classic of the era.

Living in a failed state, who are the real people at risk?

I’m a bit obsessed watching the US right now. You’d think that the world’s richest country would have been able to get on top of coronavirus quickly and efficiently, but instead we have seen their numbers climb to top the international leaderboard, and their financial, medical and political systems struggle and crumble. George Parker wonders (for The Atlantic) if it’s the end of the empire, and Fintan O’Toole (in the Irish Times) brutally eviscerates Trump and his role in the tragedy as it unfolds. 

Similar patterns are emerging globally, and the developing world will be hard-hit. This FT article by Arundhati Roy synthesises many of the dominant themes that have emerged throughout this crisis. Focussing on her native India, she explores the ways that coronavirus has widened inequality and left the vulnerable exposed; the failure of populist leaders to protect their citizenry from the effects of the virus; and the ways this period in time might change the way we think about our politics.

Is there hope for something better than a ‘new normal’?

Finally, this tour de force from Rebecca Solnit (in the Guardian) looks at all of the things that this virus has destroyed and all the inequities it has laid bare, but considers how such a huge pause in history could give us the opportunity to rebuild a better society, based on hope.

Revisit Edwina and author Charlotte Wood’s conversation recorded on stage for the series Thinking Through a Crisis.

Bringing our stages to your sofa, our new digital program comes to you weekly from our House to yours. See the program.

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