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TW/CW: mentions of severe COVID-19-related situations and hospitals.
Michael Rosen, children’s author and poet, was hospitalised after becoming infected with the novel coronavirus. His latest book, Many Different Kinds of Love is a masterfully crafted recollection of his battle with the virus and his recovery.
I’ll be honest, before buying this book I wasn’t too sure about it. Did I really want to read about the pandemic during the pandemic? Like many, reading is an escape for me, so in the middle of a pandemic this book didn’t immediately attract me.
But, I felt I owed it to the 127,000 people who have died of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom and the brave key workers fighting to keep us safe to read about an experience of the pandemic that I have been lucky enough to avoid. So, I purchased the book.
And I am so glad that I did.
Michael’s journey to the brink of death and back is woven together through prose poetry, letters and diary entries from healthcare professionals.
As soon as I read the first page, I knew this was going to be one of the most emotional books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The book opened with a screenshot of a tweet from day 12 of Michael’s coronavirus journey. I found myself haunted by the memory of liking and replying to the tweet. I’d wished him well and kept scrolling, with no idea of how sick he really was. It was surreal to think that the fleeting moment from a year ago could have been one of Michael’s last.
Thinking about this made me uncomfortable so I quickly turned the page, only to be hit with more discomfort. I began to wonder whether I was emotionally strong enough to finish this book, but it would teach me things about the pandemic that no statistics or graphs ever will , so I kept reading.
I filled with rage, then dread when I read the line “He says he thinks I’m fine” because by now we all know that Michael was far from fine. I wasn’t just angry for Michael and his loved ones, I found myself outraged for the immeasurable anonymaus others who didn’t recieve treatment soon enough too, because when healthcare services were so overstretched this was unlikely to be an isolated experience. I began to imagine thousands of families bereaved in cicrumstances Michael had narrowly avoided, a mental image I’d have been happier without.
Through the emotional haze I realised this is exactly how I am meant to feel, this is exactly what Michael wants. He wants us to feel uncomfortable; he wants us to understand. Many Different Kinds of Love is not just about Michael’s journey, it’s about our collective journey as a society, as we began to realise that while coronavirus is rampant everyone’s lives hang in balance, and this once distant and unimaginable illness could endanger any of us.
Like many bookworms, I enjoy reading entire books in single sittings. This one is far too painful for that. As much as I didn’t want to put the book down, I knew that I had to take a break before I ran out of tissues to sob into. For anyone considering reading this book, I would highly recommend taking it slowly- we are privileged that we can step out of this horrific journey by simply closing our books, and there is no shame in taking advantage of that.
After reading 3 chapters I closed the book, hoping that in the future I find someone who treats me with as much compassion as Michael received- with the NHS not only saving his life, but finding time to leave diary entries to help him piece it together too. I was foolish to hope for this when I already had it. The endless love that I was admiring was the selfless work of the NHS, who have always been right there for me when I’ve needed them. For such an uncomfortable read, this certainly left me with a beautiful, warm feeling of belonging, protection, and privilege.
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