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.

 

By Catherine Duffy

Throughout my life, I had never been that into fitness. I grew up dancing five days a week, so staying active had never been something I had to worry about. However, things changed when I started university. As much as I want to deny the existence of the “Freshman fifteen” I did start to notice a few extra pounds on my body as my lifestyle changed. I accepted the change and put a lot of pressure on my weekly yoga class to keep me fit!

I began working out in my third year of university. Between societal pressure to look a certain way, and the $100 I paid for the campus gym, I figured a few visits a week to the campus fitness centre definitely wouldn’t do any harm! I made at least two appearances at the gym every week, heading straight for the cardio machines to make sure I burned as many calories as I could. I didn’t focus on strength training, as I had no idea where to start, and feared the many judgmental eyes around the gym. 

I continued going to the gym over the summer paying a reasonable monthly sum at the local “Fit 4 Less.” Again, I would constantly head to the elliptical feeling more and more satisfied as the number of calories I burned increased on the equipment’s screen.

In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to worsen in Canada, the university gym quickly informed students that it would be closing its doors. My heart sank as I got the email sharing the news. Where would all of my pent up energy go? I had gotten into a really good habit of going at least twice a week. What would I do to stay fit now?

While the first two weeks of quarantine resulted in my adopting the lifestyle of a sloth, I knew that I couldn’t stay healthy continuing such a routine. I began taking daily walks around my neighborhood. The fresh air made me feel much better and my Fitbit vibrated with joy as it noticed my movements! Feeling frustrated with my 10,000 steps a day goal that now seemed impossible to meet in light of the new situation, I changed the settings on my Fitbit so that my goal would be 5000 steps every day. The goal felt more attainable, and consequently, I felt motivated to reach it every day knowing it was something I could do with just a half hour walk.

Since the gym was no longer an option, I decided to open my own little fitness studio in my room! Though the only equipment I had was a yoga mat, I found the Internet had many exercises I could do with just that. I began to do an ab workout daily alternating between arm workouts and leg exercises to go along with it.

I found a Youtuber online named Pamela Reif who demonstrates exercises clearly and has many videos designed for beginners. She offers daily workout plans for those seeking a bit more structure and provides some innovative ideas for those with no equipment at home. No free weights lying around in your basement? No problem! She suggests water bottles as a replacement.

Paula Reif’s Youtube workout video. Photo courtesy of Catherine Duffy.

After two weeks of committing to exercise every day, not only did I feel healthier, I already felt stronger. Core strength had never been a focus of mine, but in the privacy of my own room, I felt comfortable struggling to do a simple ten rep exercise until I became a pro. Putting an hour aside every day also made me feel less lazy, and when I did put time aside for TV, I knew that I had at least been active for some time throughout the day.

The pandemic has taught me that I don’t need to invest in a gym membership to stay fit. The internet is filled with free fitness videos, and with enough discipline, you can combine daily walks and strength training at home to stay in shape! It’s so much easier to squeeze a ten-minute ab workout at home than to make your way to the gym. Instead of finding two times a week, in my formerly busy schedule to go to the university gym, I’ve found a way to incorporate a little bit of fitness in my everyday life. Furthermore, I’ve learned that staying active in order to feel healthy is much more important than exercise with the sole goal of losing weight. This pandemic has given me the chance to make a lifestyle change that has been feeling better about myself and my daily routines.

By Sophie Phillips and Kendall Bistretzan 

A global pandemic is sweeping the globe, and what else do you have to do while sitting at home, besides work? Luckily for you, you have the entire internet, cable, and streaming services like Netflix at your disposal. Now, one question remains: what do you watch when the danger of contracting SARS-CoV-2 lurks just outside your doorstep? Continue reading to find out. Below, you’ll find some recommendations and reviews from some survey respondents, and your favorite blogging team (that’s us, we hope!) on some well-known, and up-and-coming shows that you can binge on while you’re quarantined.

To start, 39 people were surveyed and asked to tell us some of their favorite TV shows. Here are their top 5 picks, with their thoughts on why they’re worth watching:

  1. Brooklyn 99

“Brooklyn 99 because it’s comedy driven with a slight plot. I like how all the characters foil each other and the humor.” — Rhiannon, 21

It’s “funny, lighthearted, and extremely bingeable.” — Amy, 21

“Brooklyn 99 is such a great feel- good comedy show! It has a very diverse cast that has tons of genuine friendship and the jokes and comedic timing is brilliant!” — Cynthia, 21

“This show is “straight up addicting, and it never fails to make me smile.” — Kaitlyn, 21

  1. The Good Place

“The show revolves around what it means to be a good person, and that everybody has the potential to be good. The writing is amazing and absolutely so funny, and the message is really deep and beautiful. Mike Schur (the writer and creator of the show) studied ethics, which led him to making this show: as they say in commercials, it’s the smartest dumb show. The jokes are amazing, but you also learn a valuable lesson every episode. There are only 4 seasons and each episode is ~25 minutes, so it’s super easy to binge. If you’re looking for a show that’s funny and uplifting/hopeful, this is the show for you.” — Sofia, 19

“It’s beautiful and perfect and honestly hilarious with some surprises.” — Kaitlyn, 21

  1. Grey’s Anatomy

“It has so much drama and an interesting story line which keeps you engaged.” — Meagan, 21

“It’s what got me interested in medicine and the show is so good and addicting.” –Shawna, 19

  1. Jane the Virgin

“Diverse, funny, heartwarming and THE BEST NARRATOR” — Georgia, 19

“Jane the Virgin because it is everything. It is funny, dramatic, romantic, mysterious, and so much more! I cry probably every episode. It talks about real things: depression, anxiety, family, immigration. Even accidental artificial insemination. And the characters are sometimes despicable but also always so lovable. IT’S JUST SO GOOD, OKAY.” — Lelani, 22

  1. Parks and Recreation

“I love the character interactions and story.” — Haley, 21

“Characters are relatable to the audience and they engage in funny interactions with one another” — Joseph, 19

“As someone who studies government, I love it because it is light hearted and not too dramatic. Everyone in it is hilarious and every season ends on a sweet note. Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman are amazing, though all the supporting actors have their time to shine. It’s a classic that I never get bored of rewatching. Definitely better than The Office.” — Eleanor, 19

“High-key better than the office, with a fun environment.” — Kaitlyn, 21

Although almost all of the shows that earned the special spot of being their favorites, two of the hottest shows right now–the Tiger King and Love is Blind–were not on the respondents’ list. However, here is what they had to say about both shows, with a summary of their ratings out of 10:

Tiger King is a docu-series about a man, Joe Exotic, who collects a mass amount of big cats, and his enthralling battle to keep his “sanctuary” alive, despite some challenges. The show also explores two other big cat “sanctuaries” across the country, and the collection of big cats in general. Below is what the respondents had to say about it:

“I think people like the drama, but the show does not focus on tigers as much as the tensions between the characters. Also, Joe’s fans are not focused on the bigger picture of the animal abuse. However, it is very entertaining.” — Jennifer, 22 

“It’s a gripping story and reminds me that there really are people like that who exist out there. Also I like how, despite it being a documentary, it’s really more of an dramatic, episodic documentary because of the cliffhangers at the end of each one.” — Rhiannon, 21 

“Makes for really good television. Clearly eye grabbing, but ultimately, has it changed me? Has it pushed me to do something different? No. Also the people who made it are just as sketchy as the people it’s about.” –Anya, 19

“The documentary 100% uses tactics to skew your opinions as you watch it to view certain people as bad and to favor others, but [it’s] interesting.” — Amy, 21

Love is Blind is a reality show that attempts to answer the question: is love really blind? The show follows 30 singles whose goal is to marry their future spouse, but must decide who to propose to–and ultimately end up with–without ever seeing their face. This show is full of all of the drama, twists, and turns that you would expect from a reality TV show, but with a dash of wholesomeness.

“This is like 90 Day Fiancé. It is very dramatic and over exaggerated. It is corny but I am here for the drama.” –Jennifer, 22

“Very satisfying watching the drama unfold from the experiment while seeing characters’ relationships change from the time in the pods [spaces where the show contestants talk to their could-be spouses without seeing their face] to when they walk down the aisle.” — Emily, 20 

“I really liked this show–much more than the bachelor! I didn’t realize all the different steps the couples were going to have to go through, I thought they just stayed in the pods, so that definitely made it more entertaining. Overall, it was super interesting to see someone fall in love with a personality and voice, and then a whole human person.” — Sofia, 19

“Reality shows are like junk food, they make you feel good for a moment–they’re a guilty pleasure. While I love a good love story, this is a show that more so made me cringe and laugh in the best of ways.” — Amy, 17

Although you’ve heard from others about what their favorites are, you might be wondering, what are we at Beyond the Pandemic watching during these trying times? The world can feel like a scary place these days, so we have catered our top five binge-worthy shows to series that will make you feel good.

  1. Anne with an E 

Why Netflix allows its lovely Canadian content to slip through the cracks into obscurity I will never understand. Anne with an E is the same story you’ve always known; fiery orphan Anne is sent to live with the Cuthbert siblings. The Cuthbert’s, however, are expecting a boy. Anne with an E is a beautiful coming of age story that follows Anne as she deals with being an outsider, navigating new relationships, and growing up in the late 1800’s. You wouldn’t expect a show of this time period to deal with issues of sexism, consent, racism and homophobia, but Anne with an E pulls it off with a grace that does not feel forced. Anne is a strange child, and yet her story is surprisingly relatable to anyone who has ever been considered “different.”

  1. Derry Girls 

With just two seasons and short episodes, Derry Girls can be finished in a day or two, and trust us, you’ll want to. Derry Girls takes place in Derry, Ireland, during the later years of the Northern Ireland conflict, and follows the lives of four girls and a “wee English fella” as they navigate friendship, family, and Catholic high school. The cast has fantastic chemistry and the situations their characters find themselves in are so ridiculous, yet so true to the obscurity of young adulthood. But a little pro-tip: you might want to watch it with subtitles. 

  1. Atypical 

Atypical is about Sam, an 18-year-old boy on the autism spectrum who wants to start dating. This is the catalyst of the story, launching his well-meaning but often misguided family into mayhem as they deal with the changes that accompany growing up. The show’s first season was well-received, but garnered criticism for its portrayal of some aspects of autism. So, for the second season the show hired more actors and writers on the spectrum. A particular stand-out of Atypical is Brigette Lundy-Paine, the non-binary actor who plays Sam’s younger sister, Casey. Casey is head-strong and snarky, but Lundy-Paine flawlessly portrays Casey’s subtle moments of loneliness and insecurity, and in later seasons, her struggle to come to terms with her sexuality. Atypical is a show that promotes love and acceptance, and the world could always use just a little bit more of that. 

  1. Sex Education  

Socially awkward Otis doesn’t have much experience in the sex department, but thanks to his overbearing sex therapist mother, he knows more than he ever bargained for. When misfit Maeve realizes that their classmates are not so educated, the two team up to become the school’s underground “sex therapists.” With a diverse and hilarious cast, this British comedy has been praised for its representation of sexuality and sexual orientations, and you just might learn a thing or two! It also has this fantastic aesthetic that transcends the rules of era-based fashion and borders. 

  1. Big Mouth 

Disclaimer: this show is SUPER raunchy, but absolutely hysterical when it isn’t bombarding you with flashbacks of your own pre-teen horrors. Big Mouth follows best friends Andrew and Nick as they enter puberty. Nick is self-conscious of being a late bloomer, while Andrew has to deal with a randy hormone monster named Maury that is the physical embodiment of the intrusive thoughts that come along with growing up. Along for the ride are Jessi, a headstrong girl who struggles with her parents divorce, Jay, a lonely boy with ADHD who slowly comes to terms with his sexuality, and Missy, a nerdy, awkward late-bloomer who struggles to manage her strong emotions. Yes, there are a lot of dirty jokes and animated penises, but the show also looks at the nitty gritty of growing up; first periods, consent, shame, sexism, and mental illness. And yes, the animation is kind of hideous, but it also stars John Mulaney, Nick Kroll, Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele and more pillars of comedy. So, you win some you lose some. 

There is an infinity of different shows to binge on when you’re stuck in your home during quarantine, and although television is far from solving any of the myriad of what’s going on in and outside your home, it sure can provide some comfort, humor, and distraction from the pandemic outside of your doorstep.

Remember being 12 years old? Yeah, I try not to either. But what I do remember is being the kid who read all the time. I would tear through book after book – for fun! How long has it been since you’ve read for fun? In the last few years I’ve found it nearly impossible, what with all the reading I already have to do for my university courses, not to mention how busy my part-time job and homework keeps me. Pleasure reading is for breaks only. 

Well, we’ve just been hit with the biggest break the world has ever seen. If you’re not a front-line worker you’ve likely got more free time than ever before. Why not pick up a book? Lucky for you, I’m one step ahead. Here is a list of seven books that will make you read with the fervor of a 12-year-old who hasn’t been burdened with unemployment or calculus.  

The Long Walk – Richard Bachman (a.k.a Stephen King)

Before the Hunger Games, there was The Long Walk. 

The Long Walk takes place in the not-so-distant future. Every year on the first of May, 100 teenage boys enroll in the Long Walk. If you break the rules, you get three warnings. If you exceed your limit, you’re out – for good. The walk goes on until only one boy remains, and he will win everything he could ever want – but at what price?

I’ve read dozens of King books, but this is the one I always recommend to a newcomer. I physically couldn’t put it down. The Long Walk is brilliantly existential, surprisingly emotional, with each page more harrowing than the last. Not the sunniest of reads, but trust me, you’ll be thinking about this one for days.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas 

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

I have never read a book that has made me so angry. There were several moments where the only thing that prevented me from screaming with frustration was the fact that I didn’t want to freak out my roommates. I read the last 150 pages in one sitting because I simply couldn’t put it down. I will never experience Starr’s plight. But thanks to the eloquent work of Angie Thomas, I can at least begin to understand. This is a book I think every person can benefit from reading. 

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood 

Listen, I did not want a sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale, nor did I think the world needed one. But did I pre-order my copy and pay to see Margaret Atwood do a live reading at my university? You bet your ass I did. No, we did not need this book, but I loved every page of it.

The Testaments picks up roughly 15 years after Offred disappears into the van at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. There are three perspectives; a young woman who grows up in Gilead, a teenage girl who is free in Canada, and a notorious villain whose motives may not be as heinous as we once thought. 

There are two downsides to this book: the first is that Margaret Atwood is a little bit out of touch with being a teenage girl, so some of those chapters didn’t sit quite right. The second is that you’ll probably have to read The Handmaid’s Tale first, and while it is a brilliant book, it is deeply depressing and very slow at times. You could always just google the synopsis – I won’t tell. 

The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson: A True Story of Love and Murder – Lois Simmie

I had to read this book in my grade 12 English class, and let me just say, it was WILD. Picture a classroom full of 17-year-old gremlins with various ranges of literacy, all of whom are absolutely engrossed with this novel. 

Secret Lives follows the true story of a Scottish man, John Wilson, who disgraced his name and moved to Canada, leaving his wife and children behind. In 1914 he joined the Mounties, and while stationed in Saskatchewan he caught tuberculosis and fell in love with the much younger woman who nursed him through it. But it isn’t long before his wife back in Scotland sets out to find him, and what happens from then on is nothing short of tragic. 

It has been over three years since I read this book, and I’ll never forget where I was when the big plot twist happened. If you like true crime or Canadian history, do yourself a favour and pick this one up. 

The Female of the Species – Mindy McGinnis 

This is a contemporary young adult book that deals with rape culture in a way I have not read in any other book. 

After Alex’s sister is murdered and the killer walks free, she takes justice into her own hands. Living with what she’s done is easy but opening up to those around her – new friend Peekay and budding romance Jack – is not. As the trio navigates their senior year, tensions boil as Alex’s darker nature unfolds. 

Tragic as it may be, I think you could hand this book to any young woman and she will find a character with whom she deeply relates to. It is an authentic portrayal of young-adulthood and the horrors that come along with it, while finding love in unexpected places. 

Educated – Tara Westover 

Educated is the true story of Tara Westover, the seventh child of survivalists in the mountains of Idaho. She never received a birth certificate and never attended school, spending her childhood working in the family junkyard. Her father forbade hospitals, so head injuries, burns, and gashes were treated with herbalism. In her teens, she bought the textbooks needed to learn the content for the ACT’s. To her shock, she passed with a mark high enough to enroll in Bringham Young University. At 17 years old, Tara Westover stepped into a classroom for the first time. 

This woman is absolutely astounding. I could barely handle trigonometry after a decade of math lessons, I cannot fathom having to teach it to myself. But her journey was so traumatic, and her self-discovery is just as admirable as her brilliant mind. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket 

Perhaps you read this series when you were actually 12. Well, I can confirm that the series is just as entertaining to read as an adult. 

The series follows Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, whose parents die in a mysterious fire, leaving behind an enormous fortune for Violet to inherit when she comes of age. The siblings are sent to live with their villainous distant relative, Count Olaf, and from there, nothing but misery ensues. 

Of course, the hijinks and mystery are fun for the kiddos, but there’s so much more to the series than that. The series looks at how adults are often complicit in the abuse of children, whether it’s been too scared to help, too dismissive to believe, or too proud to listen. Another overarching theme of the series is that people are not inherently good or evil, and that morality is a choice that needs to be made every day. 

There are also man-eating leeches and a cult. Enough said. 

Did we miss any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments!