Rediscovering Reading During Quarantine

by Eleanor Kelman

When I was younger, I was what adults would call a “voracious reader.” Not a day went by that I wasn’t buried in a novel. If I finished an assignment early, it was lunchtime or I simply had a free minute, I would pull my book of the week out of my backpack, flip to where one of my handmade bookmarks was slotted in between pages, and continue on in a little fantasy world by myself. I requested only Barnes & Noble gift cards from my family for Christmas and had a devoted bag just for my weekly library trips, which I would overfill with everything from manga to gossip rags to classic literature. I read anything and everything without discretion; I just wanted to read.

And one day, I didn’t.

I guess the decline was slow in hindsight, but by the time I was deep into high school it was evident: I just didn’t read anymore. I read what was required for class, but the passion wasn’t there and I had no motivation to pick up a book for pleasure at all. By the time I was in college, the only times I read a book outside of coursework were on long plane flights during which there were no real distractions. This brought the grand total of full novels I read for fun in about a seven-year stretch to something to the order of three. That’s how many I could have finished in a typical month as a child.

Every single new year brought forth that resolution to “read more” and each summer gave me a theoretical new wind to pick up and finish even just one book. And, of course, not a single declaration of “this is the day I become a reader again” actually came to fruition. It didn’t take long for me to become jaded despite still hoping I would one day be able to find my passion for reading again.

I was not shocked that I once again found an opportunity to read when I was kicked off of my college campus and quarantined within my home. But even that dream was quickly squashed when I found out that all local libraries were closed for the foreseeable future. I do have plenty of books at home, but my most prized ones I had already read (two of the novels I’ve read four times each) or hadn’t considered starting because they just didn’t pique my interest that much. While I did pick up a science fiction novel from my shelf, it only took about a chapter for me to realize I was not interested in the bland setting and unrelated storylines of multiple characters (I’ve always disliked that writing style). I relegated myself to yet another half-hearted attempt at becoming a reader that went nowhere.

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[A snippet of my personal bookshelf, er, bookfloor]

The thing was, I still really, really wanted to read. I mean, it wasn’t like I had much else to keep me busy! My hectic schedule, from classes to multiple clubs to constantly seeing friends up on campus had come to a screeching halt; I had exponentially more downtime now than I had had in years. Fumbling around on the internet eventually led me to a way to access e-books through the library cards I already had (one for my local library at home and another for the one closest to my university), and once I downloaded that app I only had one final excuse left to not start reading. I still could just forget to get around to it, no?

Once the semester ended and I was officially done with classes, the website I had used for the past four years of college to track homework assignments had lost its purpose. This actually disheartened me a surprisingly good amount, as I had become weirdly attached to it after it practically single-handedly saved me from failing every class I took. I was so fond of this website that I decided against unceremoniously giving it up, and swapped the course subjects for categories of things I’d need to do that summer and didn’t include class periods. One such thing I added was a way to track my reading, something I’d previously used it for to track the chapters professors had assigned weekly. Now that I had nullified that excuse, I had to read.

Okay, I’m not going to pretend I dove headfirst into hundreds of novels and can now say that I’ve polished off half of the Library of Congress. However, I did actually start successfully reading for fun, which is a much less lofty and much more vague goal but a goal I finally achieved nonetheless. I finally have flipped the final page of Thomas Cullinan’s The Beguiled, which wasn’t my favorite in the end, but what it represented was so much more than just a mediocre Civil War-era thriller novel. I’ve moved my e-book endeavors on to two books at once: John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, a book that has been on my radar since I became engrossed in a podcast about the white collar crimes of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, as well as Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw, which has a forthcoming adaptation in the second season of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix.

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[The porch has quickly become my favorite place to engross myself in a book]

It’s not even about the quality of these books per se but rather about how they show me how I’m maturing. I feel better when I’m reading, sort of like one of those “self care queens” on YouTube. They give me a jolt of “wellness,” and some feel-good nostalgia. Reading brings me back to a simpler, less chaotic time when I didn’t have any adult fears and anxieties looming over my head. They remind me of a childhood when I did something for no reason other than truly enjoying the escape. And when I finished one book, the only worry on my mind was to pick which one to read next.

 

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