Epidemiologists say COVID-19 may be with us forever. Based on the number of novels that have incorporated the pandemic, it's going to be long-lasting on library and bookstore shelves, as well.

If I want to go back to the early days of the pandemic (and, yeah, right now I definitely do not want to), I'll reread Louise Erdrich's "The Sentence." Maybe the first major book to tackle that surreal time, it finds humor and pathos in the life of a bookstore similar to Erdrich's Birchbark Books & Native Arts.

Set amid the activism in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd's murder, the book is raw and urgent. It's a time capsule of (and metaphor for) that period when we were wiping down groceries because we didn't understand what was going on and wondered if we ever would.

Although they came later, Elizabeth Strout's "Lucy by the Sea" and Caitlin Shetterly's "Pete and Alice in Maine" also spotlight characters trying to figure out what to do when the pandemic hits. Both also feature privileged people trying to flee COVID-19, unlike Erdrich's characters, who live in the middle of it.

More recently, another kind of "pandemic novel" is less about the circumstances and more about how we adapted to them. When I interviewed Ann Patchett about "Tom Lake," in which adult daughters return to the family farm during the pandemic, she said, "The book would have worked perfectly without the pandemic, but the pandemic just made it a little better. It put a wall around them. That's what I love: anytime a group of people are trapped in some way."

Patchett's not the only one who likes putting unlikely people together. Cathleen Schine's "Künstler in Paradise" doesn't have much to do with the virus, but its drama — a ne'er-do-well moves in with his grandmother to keep out of trouble — is set up by the pandemic.

That's also true of Curtis Sittenfeld's "Romantic Comedy," which she began pre-COVID but has said she thought would feel more real if she incorporated it. Halfway through, the pandemic hits and its main characters decide to cohabitate — something they might not have done in a less-charged time. Sittenfeld explores how being "trapped" fosters intimacy and puts pressure on a new relationship.

Laura Lippman uses the pandemic to build suspense in "Prom Mom." Each scene in the thriller (about a couple who knew each other under unfortunate circumstances in high school and reconnect many years later) is given a date, beginning before the pandemic. But as 2020 draws closer, Lippman encourages us to wonder how the characters will react.

Like Sittenfeld, she could have set her book earlier to avoid the pandemic (in the same way horror movies always happen where there's no cellphone service), but the virus raises the stakes. For instance, will a guy whose wife is a doctor stop sleeping around because he knows he'll pass along to his wife any germs he picks up? (Spoiler alert: Nope.)

Even books that don't mention the pandemic grapple with it. The anti-Asian prejudice that fuels Celeste Ng's "Our Missing Hearts" echoes the bigotry exhibited when haters blamed China for the virus, even though the book doesn't cite COVID. And Silas House's "Lark Ascending" takes place in the isolated, suspicious aftermath of a pandemic that feels familiar, even if it's not our pandemic.

That's probably the future of "pandemic novels." Books about prevaccine days will date quickly but books about what — if anything — we have learned never will.