Just a thought: Reading amidst COVID-19


It is hard to read books these days… at least for me.  I can read articles. I can read anything for work. Reading for pleasure, however, has been much more difficult.

I have the ultimate conditions for reading for pleasure at the moment. I am in the middle of nature. Birds are constantly chirping. My days are not as structured as before. The weather here feels like summer.

When I inquired about the recent changes to the reading habits of the readers in my life, a sample of three, here is how they are doing:

My husband listens to Moby Dick being read and reads it along everyday. He is still able to read and he still enjoys it.

My best friend Chris received and read a book I sent him – which I am anticipating reading when I can buy or lend paperbacks in English (as I am currently in a remote part of Turkey) –Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, and loved it. So he could read too and with pleasure.

My father, who is an avid reader, on the other hand, is also struggling with reading. He says he has a hard time going beyond a paragraph. He can’t explain why. He blames the pandemic.

I read this piece in Vox, an interview with a neuroscientist who assured that others are in a similar predicament, and tried to explain why some of us can’t read at the moment. Here is a quote: “The pandemic that we’re in is the most uncertain thing possible. You don’t know when it’s going to end, whether you’re going to get it. You don’t even know what it is, really. And all of a sudden, everything in your environment is dangerous. Door handles are dangerous. Other people are dangerous. It’s the most uncertain thing.” The shared anxiety amidst the pandemic and our collective placement in a limbo may explain our inability to read.

So here is just a thought: As I was attempting to read this time, Rachel Cusk’s book Outline, yet again unsuccessfully, I observed an unsettled feeling that kept me away from getting into the book. I was not so sure what it was at first but then I had a moment of clarity, so I am sharing it!

When I used to read before the pandemic, I was able dream along with my read about the places and activities mentioned in a book. However this time when my most recent book referenced a trip to Athens, I was no longer able to imagine it as I once would. I felt myself stuck somewhere in between an irritation due to the naive past reality of the book unaware of the current moment, and a realization of my continued pursuit to desire and want the things that I read about. I was not sure when I would be able to go back to Athens or anywhere in the world.

These thoughts kept me away from going any further. So I paused indefinitely on page 2.

Even if the topic of it may be fantastical (I tried those as well), whenever I  try to read a book these days I feel this disjuncture- as if the book I am reading is produced in a completely different era than the one I am in even if it was written recently.

That may be the cause of the discomfort- we are yet to land on our own new era. We are currently in transit in between different realities. We do not accept plane food as food. Clouds are not a place.

As we all try to predict a timeline for a return to something that resembled our past normal, and the form normalcy will take, I think the first sign of its arrival for me will be the return of the ability to read books again.




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