I’m an unapologetic bookworm. I read four to six books a month. I consider reading to be my self-care and my hobby: it’s the thing that quiets the chatter in my brain. It’s my vacation when I can’t go anywhere.
I have books on CD in my car, audiobooks on my phone, a Kindle app and a well-worn library card. When I got the email that my branch library was closing due to the pandemic, I drove straight to the library and checked out a dozen books. Given the feeling of doom in the air, I had passed over my usual literary fiction in favor of thrillers and memoirs.
But a strange thing has happened. Nothing can hold my attention for more than a few moments. I’ve attempted book after book off the pile, only to abandon them after a failed attempt at reading before bed. Now it’s a magazine article here and there, and not the Atlantic or the Economist either. I’m reading Reader’s Digest and Real Simple. Which is how I feel—real simple.
I went on a booklover’s Facebook page and admitted that, while I assumed my reading pile would evaporate with so much free time, it has grown instead of shrunk. At the page, I saw I was not alone. Many readers like me are struggling to concentrate on the words before them. They can’t read or can’t process what they’ve read.
A friend of mine who is a therapist told me that even if I don’t feel stressed, I’m affected by my surroundings, subliminally picking up cues all around me, whether it’s noticing masks where there once were smiles or absorbing the news we can’t avoid. The toll it’s taking on my frontal lobe is not allowing me to process words on a page. Cruelly ironic, since that’s the one thing that always relaxes and comforts me.
My fellow bibliophiles suggest I relearn how to enjoy books by starting slow. Short stories or essays to start (really missing my library right now), then move on to something light and happy, like a “beach read.” If that fails, I will have to accept that this is temporary and find a different escape. Maybe TED Talks or podcasts? Just not snacks!