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My reading life has been a mess for the last couple of months. Even before school was canceled, and the stay-at-home orders began, there was already a growing sense of uncertainty that still rules today. That has profoundly changed my relationship with books, and today I’m going to go rogue and share a few random thoughts on reading during the era of COVID-19.
I apologize in advance, if my thoughts seem less than well organized or a bit rambling. I gave myself the freedom to simply capture my feelings in print. I hope you’ll join me in the conversation.
- Historically, reading has been my solace during hard times, my escape mechanism. For that last two months that just hasn’t been true. Even if I’m reading a book I like, I pick it up, put it down, wander around the house, find some other distraction. Sure some books pull me back quicker than others, but I don’t think I’ve sat and read for an hour straight this entire time. No matter how good the book, my mind is busy. That’s exhausting and I feel cheated out of the pleasure books usually bring to my life.
- For many of you time to read is a big issue since you’re working from home and/or managing distance learning from your house. It makes sense that the quality of your reading, not to mention time for reading would suffer. I live alone, so don’t have the exact same situation as you might. But, living alone is a double edged sword. I don’t have others in my home distracting me, so I should have lots of time for reading, but I also don’t have anyone in my home TO distract me, so spend too much time trying to calm myself down.
- I’m sure most of you would agree with me that working from home does not mean more reading time. When I went to school and taught, I had clear boundaries between my work and home lives. Home life was where my reading world resided. Now, I NEVER fully leave work. Even when I try, it’s always close by, making reading focus even more difficult. At the end of a long work day, I’d often rather binge watch TV than read. It requires so much less brain space!
- I don’t know if it’s the books, the time, or just me, but I feel like the last couple of months my reading life has resided in the land of mediocrity. I have read a couple great books, but I’ve DNF’d several that others have loved, and I’ve felt just plain “meh” about many. Of those, I know on one level I really liked some, but they just didn’t give me the lift I wanted. Is it even right to expect books to uplift me? Too often I’ve started a book thinking it was going to be the one, but then grown restless and a little bored by the end. I know it’s not the books. It’s me, but every time a book fails to rescue me, I feel a nudge of depression trying to worm its way in.
- All this makes writing reviews a HUGE challenge. I don’t fully trust my own opinions about what I’ve read, and that, coupled with the fact that writing right now feels like so much work, make mini-reviews about the best I can muster for most books. It’s why you’ve seen me revamping a few of my older booklist posts and sharing those instead.
- I hope publishers will be kind and understanding about just how difficult this time is for their readers. I know my NetGalley percentage has dipped below the 80% mark where I usually hover. (This is a percent rating given to those of us reading in advance and is a calculation of books reviewed out of books approved.) I’m giving up on more books than usual, so can offer no reviews on those.
- Even Instagam/Bookstagram, a platform that I’ve come to love, has been a struggle for me during the time of COVID. Like everyone else, I can’t get books from the library, and I usually rely on a lot of those for my photos. It’s hard to get many great pics with the limited amount of physical copies available right now. Everything feels like work!
- Still, it’s NOT all bad news. I HAVE read books I’ve loved during this time of social distancing. Those have taken me out of the day-to-day doldrums. I only wish their balm on my psyche could last a little bit longer and that I could find a few more to do the same.
Has your reading life changed in the era of COVID-19? How are you coping through this ongoing global crisis?
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I think many of us readers are struggling. I stare into space, walk around the house looking for mindless tasks to occupy my time. I usually get my best reading done in bed on the Kindle or, audio books on walks. That’s what seems to work for me now. I do miss my library visits the most I think.
Hang in there; it’s all we can do.
I knew that many readers are feeling similarly to me, which is why I decided to write this. Audiobooks, especially mysteries or lighter stories have been a sweet spot for me, too. This too shall pass…eventually!
I can relate most to paragraphs 1 and 4. My reading was good in March I read my usual amount but April I really struggled hard. I only finished 6 books and I only had 3 and 4 star books at that. Here it is the 5th of the month and I haven’t finished a book yet this month which is very I unusual for me. I’m having problems focusing, and finding no joy in reading right now.
I keep hoping the library will reopen, and I can get a fresh supply of books, hoping that might help. Like you I also dnf’d a couple of popular new releases that just didn’t work for me.
I hope all our reading ability will return to previous levels.
You’re so right. Focus and a general lack of joy in reading is just what I was trying to sum up here. My quantity of books might even be slightly up, but my enjoyment of them is down. Could it be the books? Maybe, but it feels like it’s me.
Hope you find the perfect book for you. (I just finished Rodham and liked it a lot. It really held my interest.)
Sara Burnette says
I have heard this from others in my book club (we meet virtually right now). Luckily I still have been able to read for enjoyment and it’s working to keep me distracted. I’m not reading anything sad, and thriller type books are the best at keeping me reading. I’m going to try some lighter books too. I’m sorry that books aren’t helping you right now 😔 Could you try magazines maybe? I love Reader’s Digest. I am missing the library a lot – I have tons on hold. All my reading is through Kindle now.
Sara Burnette says
Also I’d love to suggest something like Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter Street series if you mind Christmas references 😂 or some of her older summer books like The Blue Bistro!
I generally am not much of a magazine reader. I just keep plugging away trying to find books that work. You’re right that lighter books are better. Thanks for the recs below. I actually have 28 Summers by Hilderbrand coming up. I got both a print and audio ARC, so I think I might listen to it.
Gayle Weiswasser says
Yes to all of this. I’ve been flailing around, even with books I’ve really been looking forward to.
The swap sites on Facebook are more active than ever – if you need different books, swap what you’ve finished and get new ones. I print postage labels at home so I don’t need to go into the PO.
I’ve never tried the swap sites, so need to check those out. Do you have a favorite one?
Yep, my attention span is definitely shorter. With kids home all day, I just haven’t been able to settle into a new routine. I do my best reading before I fall asleep and sometimes if I retreat to my room in the middle of the afternoon. But even then, YouTube calls my name. Walking with an audiobook has been a great combo for me.
Also, I have a small stack of library books that I haven’t touched despite having them for these extra weeks. 🙄. Maybe I’ll put away the screens and work on those next.
Take care, Susie. I hope you find some good reads that click for you.
I have about six library books sitting on my shelf, too, and I’ve only read two of them. You are so right that phones, computers and TV’s are easy distractions that I also turn to a lot.
I hope we both find some great reading time AND material, Katie.
My focus is definitely impacted. I’ve read some good books since the Stay at Home order on 3/16 but it’s taken me a long time to finish them! I’ve gotten into a bad habit of wandering down the Internet rabbit hole.
And insomnia is my new normal so I’m getting my best reading done between 2-4AM. Also not a good habit!
My sleep has been a mess, too. For some bizarre and embarrassing reason, when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night I’m hooked on watching The Great British Bakeoff show on Netflix. It’s mindless!
This speaks to me in so many ways! I’m also finding that I don’t trust my reviews. I haven’t really been able to get into anything literary (with the exception of Normal People- loved that one) and can only read ‘brain candy’ or thrillers. Which is fine, and I’m happy to recommend/ review those, but I do miss getting absorbed by a book that has more substance.
I also thought about my Netgalley percentage. I’m getting nearly zero physical copies sent my way (understandably), and almost everything has come through NG. I was at about 85% before this all started- now I’m at 74%. It is what it is, but I’ve been working on that number for years and a piece of me is annoyed to see it drop. Silly, but true.
Hang in there friend!! You are not alone.
Thanks, Tina. I really can’t even imagine being in your position. Settling into this strange new world AND getting ready to have a baby. Once you’ve delivered and brought her home, you’ll be so happy, tired, and in love with her that you won’t want to leave your home anyway.
As for our NetGalley numbers, mine is down to like 76 or 77%. It IS annoying!
Stephanie J. Schiltz says
So relieved to see that I’m not the only one to feel distracted. I have piles of books that keep accumulating but I can’t get into. My mind is just too full of “today” and just doesn’t want to stay still. I’ve been cooking and baking since restaurants are a NO. Occasional carryout to keep our favorite eating spots open. I worry. I want this virus and the feelings of unrest that accompanied it , to just be gone. Hopefully soon! So yes you aren’t alone.
I love hearing from others feeling the same way about all of this. Thank you for letting me know. At least we know all these feelings of unrest are just a part of the process and hopefully we can put it all behind us soon. (Please!)
I am an avid reader at all times. It is harder now. But, I found that I can lose myself in historical fiction – particularly Civil and Revolutionary War periods. They are just far enough from current times to seem like a “story”. I can’t do contemporary conflict fiction, WWII historical fiction – just too close to real. I have read 8 books since SIP – long ones, ones that are deep in battles and history…they draw me in. I also read exclusively on Kindle and “reward” myself to read after my home workday for about 2 hours outside in the sunshine. The sun lifts my spirits too…When I come back inside, I am refreshed, my mind is more relaxed as I have been “away”, I have inhaled clear air and I am as ready to take on the world as I can be. My thoughts are with you…it is a struggle to find our normals in this world.
That’s so great that you can read for 2 hours straight. I just can’t do that right now. It’s also wonderful that you have sunshine where you are. We’ve had sun, but spring can be rainy here in WA. I do love reading outdoors, so as the weather gets better, I think that will help. Stay well!
I’m feeling the same way. Its so annoying not being focused enough to do what I normally LOVE to do.
My goal on Goodreads is over 300 books, and I feel a pressure to read so I can make it this year. I know I should just change it, but ….
I want my reading life back! lol
Wow! 300 books. That’s amazing. I hope with time your reading life improves, but really if you don’t make your GR goal this year, you’ll not be alone. Many will not make it and that’s just fine.
Yeah I think the merging of your Work & Home worlds really have been a main contributor to your reading changes. I too seem to be doing more audiobooks than print reads … due to distractions etc. & most of us are mood readers so when things are Grim — it’s hard to really *want* to read for long periods or our *focus* is less. But I think it’s Okay to accept the change … and not get on one’s case about it. We won’t all have a huge reading year in 2020 or our goal on GR but you know we do what we can …. during a very harsh pandemic.
You are so right, Susan. Work is actually my biggest stressor right now and I too often turn to my work computer when I could be reading. I need to stop doing that!
It’s interesting what you say about not having a good reading year. I think my numbers will actually be okay. I’m ahead on my GR goal right now. For me it’s more the quality of what I’ve read. That leads to the question, “Is it because of the pandemic OR is 2020 just not a very strong year for books?” What do you think?
I guess 2020 might come thru eventually for us on Quality reads. I’ve done quite a bit of backlist reading this year so haven’t read a lot of 2020 novels yet … but I hope to in the months ahead. So far Long Bright River (which I just reviewed) was a 5 star-er for me. I think you liked it too. Now I’m listening to Liz Moore’s novel Heft since her storytelling is enjoyable.
I read Heft years ago and remember loving it.
Jade @ Reading with Jade says
Interesting collection of thoughts, Susie – and many I can relate to myself. I have definitely found this uncertain time to be a very ‘meh’ reading time, although I have had snatches of time where I’m enjoying reading, and then follow that up with two whole weeks of not picking up a book. It is odd… As a reader who escapes through books, I’m finding that hard currently. I, like you, am turning to things in my spare time that require much less brain capacity. I also find your remark of – is it right to expect a book to uplift you an interesting thought.
I think what is very important right now is to make sure you are honouring your feelings – even with regards to reading.
This was a really interesting & thoughtful post.
Thanks, Jade. I know many of us are experiencing the same sort of reactions to this crazy time and am glad to start a conversation about it. Happy reading and may you find something that works.
I can relate a lot to this. When our stay-at-home order came down, I was actually between jobs, and I was reading a ton, like a book a day. But I feel like I’m not retaining much. I’ve gone down to mini-reviews for most things because I just can’t focus enough to write a full review. Now I’m working from home, so I have less time to read. My library has a really good e-book and audiobook selection, but the wait times are really long for most things, so it’s been a challenge getting new material.
Working from home has been so much more time (and brain) consuming than I ever imagined it would be. I realized this weekend while forcing myself to do a couple posts, that part of the problem is that I’m on the computer ALL day 5-days a week for work. I don’t want to be on the computer in my free time. I think that’s part of why writing reviews is so hard right now.
I have the same struggles with library holds. Mine also has a lot, but even longer waits than usual right now. Thanks for your thoughts on this crazy time and books.
You are preaching to the choir, dear! I’m feeling everything you are except…my reading rebounded for awhile. All I wanted to do was read and I was enjoying what I read. Now I’m wavering again and wondering if I’m being too tough on the books I want to discard. The writing is painful. I feel as if my brain is filled with mud so my mind if spinning and spinning, but getting nowhere.
I don’t think it helps that what we do involves sitting at a computer. It’s even worse for you, because of teaching from home. If I’m at my computer I am clicking on CNN, NYT, or a world virus tracker. It’s obsessive. When/if I walk away and do things like knit, puzzles, even watch TV I feel so much better. Yet, I can’t stop. We’re supposed to “live in the moment” but this moment is horrible! And looking ahead is just as bad. Is it any wonder all of our psyches are struggling?
I am glad I am not the only one who hasn’t been able to read. This has NEVER happened to me in my life, and it scares me a little because everyone that I know knows me as a huge bookworm. The library staff knows me personally, and the UPS dude is om friendly terms since he brings all my book mail. I keep thinking if I can’t read then WHO AM I?! The last couple days have been better reading-wise, and I hope this is the turn around point. Even when I was growing up in Central Appalachia, I felt calm and safe in the library, and if it had a book, then all was well. Here is to hoping we all can get rea more in the coming months.
My reading has improved a lot since the beginning of all this. I’d say from March into the first half of April my reading was a mess, but then it changed. For the last couple of months my reading has really picked up and become more of an escape for me. That being said, I still can’t stay focused for long periods of time. I take more reading breaks than normal.
I hope your reading gets back on track soon.