Article by Sarah Williams.
I consider myself an avid reader, but the reality is that I’ve not read consistently since I was in high school. As an only child, both reading and writing fiction was my primary pastime. As I’ve grown up, reading’s been shoehorned into train rides, bus commutes and bedtimes when I’ve been trying to stifle the restless din of an insomniac brain. I go to the library twice a week, trawl charity shops for second hand classics and naively promise to read gifted books that are often guiltily remanded to a shelf.
Lockdown’s given my reading a new lease of life. Unable to seek dog-eared novels from my usual sources, I’ve been devouring the stand-by books that have dusted-up my shelves, unread for years. Those Christmas gifts and obligatory charity shop purchases from years past have finally come to good use. Books I’ve been ‘meaning’ to read have finally been cracked open.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process. I thought that I loathed non-fiction and biography – my adolescent self devoured spy novels, murder mysteries, cult fiction and the kind of ‘classics’ that I thought I should read. As a thirty-something with different interests, I still enjoy all the above, but it turns out I like an awful lot more than that.
I’ve always had a penchant for pop-science and economics books – the sort that shed light on the murky workings of the world around you. Now I’ve dived headfirst into interesting non-fiction. I’m interested in addiction and mental health at the moment, and I’ve discovered a cave of wonderful semi-autobiographical science works on those topics. I’ve learned more about historical events, scientific studies and the reasons behind the choices we make.
Most importantly, I’ve suddenly taken an active approach to how I choose my reading. An active approach? Isn’t that how everyone reads? Well, not in my case…
As I frequent libraries and charity shops, I’m bound to picking the best of a limited selection. Usually I browse the shelves and make a choice based on the cover or a familiar author’s name, except for occasionally reserving something I fancy and waiting eight weeks for it.
Now, deprived of my normal book-sources, I’ve resorted to buying them online. Instead of picking from a limited selection, I’m actively choosing which book I would like to read that day. I enjoyed Johann Hari’s Lost Connections, so ordered his other book Chasing The Scream. I’ve had On Writing by Stephen King on the reserve list for eight months… so I’ll buy it and read it right now. I keep hearing about Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women, on podcasts and in Em Johnson’s toilet-war article, so why not spend my cash on that?
When I’ve actively decided to read a new book and paid good money for it, I’m even more enthused to read it. With time to do anything I choose each day, reading is invariably at the top of the list.
In the last few years, I’ve used reading as a benchmark for measuring the status of my mental health. When I’m mentally unwell, I can’t pick up a book – I lack the concentration and the willpower. When I’m mentally well, I can lose myself in a novel and devour it in a couple of days. Does reading cause my mental health to improve, or does a clear mind enable me to escape into those off-white pages? I suspect it’s a bit of both.
That I’m reading every day – whether it be in bed or in the sunshine outside – getting lost in books and absorbing other people’s stories and knowledge through their pages is nothing but good news. When this lockdown ends, I hope I can preserve this urge to actively read new texts, and carve out time to keep this up.
Are you reading more in lockdown? Got any books to recommend? Maybe you’re reading less? Let us know in the comments section.
While you’re here, read our other articles on The Upsides of Being Locked Down. You’ve got nothing better to do.