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In an Upside-Down Pandemic World, I Found Stability in Books

Check out what this author's reading goals taught her about the pandemic.

A few weeks ago, as I was doing the frantic round-up and renewal of the library books we had at home, I was curious to see how many I’d checked out and read this year. I was pretty pleased with myself: 32 books this year so far; 27 since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

I was struck by the number, and when I shared this with my co-workers, I realized that diving into reading had changed my life during these past few tumultuous months. Here are a few things I’ve realized since creating my quarantine Reading Rainbow

1. I dove into digital books 

Back in March, my most pressing concern was the end of hockey season and making sure my husband was home to celebrate my son’s second birthday. I had a list of books I wanted to read stored on my computer, but I didn’t set a goal to read X amount of books in a year. I’d get to them… sometime. 

As the weeks went on and I progressed through the stack of physical books on my shelf, it became clear that sometime was now. I rebooted my ancient Kindle and took advantage of the digital collection the library offered. To paraphrase a beloved newsman: things really escalated quickly. All but two of my books have been digital, and with the library doing curbside pick-up, I haven’t physically entered the library since February.

2. I’ve rearranged my reading list 

The stats on my reading habit have pointed out some interesting patterns. Out of my 32 books, 27 were written by female authors. I’ve prioritized stories that are relevant to social justice, diving into books that had been lingering on my list. Black and Asian-American authors showed up more frequently: James Baldwin, Isabel Wilkerson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ocean Vuong, and Min Jin Lee have all helped me expand my worldview. But it’s not all Best of 2020 novels and heavy non-fiction all the time — I also devoured memoirs from Jessica Simpson, Ali Wong, and Samantha Irby, particularly as a change of pace after serious subjects. 

3. This has been an escape, but also a way to connect

“In these unprecedented times”…(shudders)

Reading has not only opened up my worldview, but provided me an opportunity to unplug and visit a different world as I navigate trying to work and parent simultaneously (not recommended). Reading puts me into someone else’s story for a bit. It allows me to disregard the hum of worry and uncertainty rolling around my brain, which is always welcome. It’s also strengthened my bond with my mom, who is on her own reading quest — we share notes on what we’ve read and enjoyed. It’s a joy to have something positive to discuss outside of family life and the daily routine. 

4. This isn’t going to last — and that’s good and bad

This journey has an expiration date, which happens to be my due date — my husband and I are expecting a baby girl in December. “I have to read for pleasure NOW,” I’ve joked to my fellow pregnant friends, “before I can’t retain any information at all.” 

I have doubts in my ability to read a 500-plus-pager on Chernobyl, no matter how compelling, while in the midst of sleepless nights with two kids. But even though I’ll be taking a hiatus from checking books off my list at such a fast pace, it already puts me in a good headspace for what is to come. The newborn phase is intense, but it’s a season of life that will come and go — just like COVID-19 will ultimately pass into history. I’ll be a different person after social distancing is over, but it will be a new beginning, and I hope to carry some lessons from what I read during this time with me when I get there. 

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