Reading in a Pandemic

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Reading in a Pandemic

Last week I wrote about the difficulties and challenges of writing in a pandemic. Today I want to offer some thoughts on the other side of that issue: Reading in a pandemic. Reading is always a good choice for entertainment and education, but even more so during times of social isolation and upheaval. Here are some random thoughts on why you should read, where to get materials, and how to make reading easier and more fun while you wait for the world to start spinning again.

Reading requires no interaction. Reading is perfect for lockdowns. You don’t need anyone else around to do it, unlike board games or parlor games. Heck, being alone is often preferred because it allows you to concentrate.

…But it can still be social. You don’t have to read alone. You can set up a book group on sties like Facebook or Slack and discuss your reads with friends. Goodreads offers the chance to discuss books with other users. Even within your own family you can read age-appropriate material and discuss it. You can also read aloud, or do projects likes crafts or performances based on the books you’re reading.

You don’t need the internet. If your internet service gets balky due to overload, your gaming and binge-watching are going to take a hit. But you can keep on reading!

It’s escapism at its finest. Reading takes you into other worlds. In times of misery and trouble, going to another place where, perhaps, a happy ending awaits is a great option. Sure, TV and movies can transport you, as well, but reading is immersive in a way that TV isn’t. Your mind makes the pictures and the slow, deliberate nature of turning the pages is almost a form of meditation.

Libraries are your friends. If your library is still open and you can safely get there, hit the library for a stack of books to get you through the crisis.

Other sources for reading material: If the library is closed, a bookstore can be a good choice if you’re willing to spend money (and it’s not closed due to lockdowns). Otherwise, many libraries offer access to ebook collections (as well as plenty of electronic journals, magazines, and educational resources). There are also free ebooks available from many authors on Amazon. If you want the classics, hit up Project Gutenberg for freebies.

You can also swap books with friends. While the jury is still out on how long coronavirus can live on surfaces, books are probably pretty safe. If in doubt, borrow the book, bring it home, and put it in an out of the way place for a few days. You can try a neighborhood swap with your fellow “social-distancers.”

Audiobooks are also an option, and are especially good if you’re sick and don’t want to read a physical book. They’re easy to listen to while lying down.

Read whatever makes you happy. This is not the time to read those things you “should” read. This is the time to read what makes you happy. If that means rereading old favorites, so be it. If you want to read “trashy” genre fiction, do it. Don’t feel guilty if you DNF a book. You want things that take you away from the misery and bring enjoyment to your life, not things you slog through out of duty. Only read that literary wonder or classic if you really want to. You can read for edification later.

If you read for education, try to keep it fun. I’m not talking about reading for formal education, here. Students will still have to read what they’re told to read. Bummer. I’m talking about reading for personal education. If you choose to read things to improve your own education, read your favorite subjects. This isn’t the time to slog through the history of WWI if that isn’t your thing. However, if (for example) art is your thing, this is a perfect time to read some new instructional books or biographies of your favorite artists. Pick your favorite subjects and read those. You can slog through the other stuff later.

Carve out a dedicated reading space. When everyone is home, a quiet reading space can be tough to come by, but it’s worth it if you can find one. Maybe you take your reading outside on nice days to get away from the hubbub in the house. If you have a spare bedroom, man cave/she-shed, or comfy attic space, use it. Heck, a walk-in closet with some pillows on the floor can work. Having your own space will allow you to more fully escape the real world and enjoy your reading time.

Read in peace. Don’t turn on the TV. Stuff your phone in a drawer. Take away the things that will interrupt your reading, particularly anything that might carry a scary, distracting headline. Music might be an okay accompaniment, but don’t use ad-supported services, or services that will jump in with breaking news. Just allow your brain to focus on the story and drift away form the current crisis.

Make the time. It can be hard to find time to read in the midst of all this craziness. Kids are home, people need care, you need care, and nothing is normal. But reading is not only entertaining, it’s normal. Heaven knows, we need something normal in this world, even if it’s just a half hour of reading in the evening. So make the time to have a little normal in your life. Your anxiety levels will thank you for it.

(Photo by Nong Vang)

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