Covid-time: 5 stages of reading

This is no tragedy. On the Richter scale of impacts on society, C19’s effect on my reading does not and should not register. Yet, for all that, it is another way my life has changed

On Thursday 12th of March, I hurried into the library with my daughter. We withdrew 12 book. Enough to cover the four of us in our household. The next day all libraries in Ireland closed.

Since then, my daughter’s read all of her books and many more besides. My son has read none of them. He just continued with his usual routine of rereading Podkin and Harry Potter obsessively.

My reading however has gone through some very distinct stages.

1. A farewell to kidlit

Over March, I kept reading kidlit, but at a much slower pace than usual. In fact I read just two novels.

I read Kate DiCamillo’s wonderful ‘Lousiana’s Way Home’ and Dan Smith’s exciting ‘She Wolf’ – both with equally determined and engaging heroines.

Chicken House Books - Home

And that was it. After seven plus years of mostly only reading children’s book since I rediscovered them as an adult, I stopped reading them. I’m not sure why. Maybe I don’t have the patience or flexibility and joy of imagination for them right now. Who knows.

2. The quest for comfort (or the death of the novel)

Somewhere after reading those two kids books during the full lockdown period where time lost all meaning, I reread two books for grown ups. A contrasting pair indeed, but both comfort reads for me.

First was Michael Chabon’s ‘Wonder Boys.’ This was possibly the sixth or seventh time I’ve read it. It was still wonderful. Each line sparkling.

The second book was James Ellroy’s ‘The Big Nowhere.’ Ultraviolent. Hardboiled. Gripping. Mysogynist. Homophobic. Not exactly the book than I remembered, but still remarkable although I won’t hurry back to it.

And then that was it for fiction entirely.

Bye bye to the novel.

3. The search for meaning

Since then (perhaps mid-May, possibly – who knows) I have dipped back into self-help. I reread Anthony De Mello’s ‘Awareness’ and discovered it still has many treasures to yield. My brother-in-law loaned me Dan Harris’ book on meditation, ‘Ten percent happier.’ I skipped all the parts about television and loved the parts about meditation

They worked. They self- helped. But then I stopped reading self-help too.

4. The literary criticism period

After some trial and error, in recent weeks I’ve ended up gripped almost uniquely by the recent issues of the London Review of Books loaned to me by my brother.

v42n13

Yes, the writing is excellent and I learn about topics I’d never consider otherwise, but I’m not a details person. I’ll read an entire book on the American electoral college and five minutes all I’ll remember is something like, ‘Electoral college bad.’

However those pages after pages of dense text with few to no images are soothing and gripping. Even stabilising. You have to concentrate to read the LRB (or at least I have to) so perhaps it functions as its own form of literary mindfulness.

5. The unknown

Our libraries reopened so about two weeks ago (yes, time still remains vague these days so I can’t be sure). I collected a rack of books for my kids. I also collected a novel that I’d ordered in February. It’s ‘Bob’ by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass.

Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas ...

Now, I’ve read every novel by Rebecca Stead. I love her writing. Yet two weeks on, this book is still sitting unopened at my bedside. I’m not sure if I’ll read it.

I’m fortunate that in Ireland things are going back to some kind of normality and I hope that trend will continue, but I don’t know when my own reading will. Like with everything these days, I’ll have to wait and see.

However, whether I stick with the London Review of Books or move on to reading phone books or return to the joys of kidlit, reading is the one thing that has remained constant through out this disturbing year.

And that is one thing for which I am very grateful.

I‘d love to hear about how your reading been affected by these troubling times. Tell me all about it below!

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