A dear friend of mine sent an e-mail saying she had read about two books in the past six months instead of her usual thirty.
If even the avid readers are struggling to read during a season when it seems we should have more time for solitary hobbies, then what’s a reading advocate to do?
Lower her standards, that’s what.
This season is not the time to tackle Crime and Punishment. It’s not when you are finally going to read Anna Karenina. It’s not even the period when you will convince your reading-averse friend to just trust you and read Pride and Prejudice.
It’s time to read something easier.
Gretchen Ruben already took the stigma out reading kids’ books with her children’s literature reading groups, so there’s no shame. Read them to a child if you are feeling sheepish, but I have spent many a happy hour curled up in a nursing chair or hammock with Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, or The Wizard of Earthsea. Yep, books for teens count, too.
But maybe you have some lingering shame from middle school, when someone teased you for reading something babyish or for stumbling in a class read-aloud (arg!). Maybe you can’t bring yourself to start a children’s book. Okay.
Or if you feel like this season is too important to waste your time on lighter fare, try the easily readable but still important I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. I haven’t read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime yet, but given his brilliance in combining comedy with serious social commentary on his show, I’m assuming this one’s a winner, too.
Memoirs are great, just pick someone you love. This probably isn’t the month for something heavier like When Breath Becomes Air or Making Toast or The Glass Castle, but it’s definitely time for something like Bossypants by Tina Fey.
How about old favorites? I’ve read and re-read Jane Eyre so many times the pages are crumbling, much to the bemusement of my dearest friend, who when visiting the home of the Brontë sisters thought, “No wonder they wrote such terrible books.” I love every minute of it, and even my husband (who, gasp, has never read it) will say, “That is a fiction–an impudent invention to vex me.” I love him slightly more every time he does. My daughter (and kindred spirit) is on her thirteenth (13th!) round through the Harry Potter series. So if your brain can’t handle something new, read something old! Even if it’s The Baby-sitters Club or The Seventh Tower Series.
I know most people will groan at this idea, but I love self-improvement books. Want to be motivated to exercise? Read Drop Dead Healthy. Want to organize the kitchen since you are spending oh-so-much-time there these days? Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up. Want to be happier (who doesn’t right now)? Read The Happiness Project. Want to stop having to fuss about how much more domestic work you do than your partner? Read Fair Play. Want general advice in the most interesting of formats? Read Tiny Beautiful Things. Want generally better habits? Read The Power of Habit or Atomic Habits. This category goes on for days.
Another idea – do you love the movie The Princess Bride? Who wouldn’t like to stretch that enjoyment over the course of a novel instead of just an hour and a half of screen time? My kids adored the movie and loved the book even more. Their shouts of “Inconceivable!” make me smile every time. And my husband kept joining the read-aloud and chuckling along with the kids through the adventures. There are so many book-movie combos you could do, like Wonder, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Eat, Pray, Love, Hidden Figures, Becoming, the list goes on!
What about a magazine you used to love? Would leafing through Time at the end of the day make you feel more connected to the outside world? Would Vogue help you de-stress? Would having Sports Illustrated or Vanity Fair or The New Yorker or Bon Appétit on the nightstand make you feel more like you? Do that!
Don’t forget audiobooks. Turn dish time (there are so. many. dishes. right now) into me-time.
Maybe it’s too hard. Maybe you’re just keeping your head above water with childcare and work and technical difficulties and worry. That’s okay.
But it’s also okay to take even five minutes a day to curl up in bed and do something fun for you. Because wouldn’t it be nice to think of quarantine as the season you rediscovered (or discovered!) your inner reader, rather than focusing on all the hard bits?
I think so.