You’re reading How I Cope, a series sharing self-care tips as we all adjust to the coronavirus pandemic.
As I write this, it’s Friday night, and that can only mean one thing — I have around 24 hours to finish my Book of the Week. No, that’s not the title of a radio show or newspaper column. It’s just something I do to prove I can actually make and keep one New Year’s resolution beyond the age of 16.
During the pandemic, reading is no longer performative - for me at least. I am not posting book stack pics on Instagram, or tweeting about them. This is pure escapism. We are all figuring out how to not get lost in a haze of days and weeks during lockdown. It might be months. And alongside my online (half-hearted) workouts and a daily walk, a book a week draws a solid line between Sunday night and Monday morning.
With every book, I sink further into the love of it. For a very long, great novel, I recommend Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. For a much shorter, powerful read you can zip through, try First Love by Gwendoline Riley. A surprising and thrilling highlight was The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed By Jack The Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold. (When I was on the train back from Barcelona, pre-corona, I almost missed seeing the flamingos in the lake because I was so enthralled.) Lowlight? I wasn’t much into Mishal Husain’s book, The Skills: How To Win At Work, probably because in these times of Slack and Zoom it’s almost impossible to win at anything other than getting dressed. (Admittedly, the author wasn’t to know that.)
“Reading is also a fantastic reason to get into bed early, which I love doing. It feels delicious to draw out that bookmark and zone into whatever world I have chosen for those seven days.”
There are other benefits to reading. A decade after graduating in modern languages at university, I’ve just finished reading my first novel in French. That genuinely feels like an achievement. Emma Smith’s memoir, Green as Grass, about her time working on the docks during World War Two, has reminded me of my gran’s experience in the East End. I’ve also had some worrying glimpses into the future, whether that’s through George Orwell’s 1984 or Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, which tells the story of massive sacrifices made by the younger generation (sound familiar?).
Is there a catch to all this horizontal activity? Do I have to do other stuff less?
Yes, probably. If someone plonked me on a comfy cushion in front of Grace and Frankie on Netflix, I could probably stay there for a week or two. Same with Twitter. I have to constantly motivate myself to keep picking up the next book. But it feels worth it, and much more satisfying and enriching than watching endless repeats.
Reading is also a fantastic reason to get into bed early, which I love doing. It feels delicious to draw out that bookmark — is there anything more satisfying than a bookmark? Mine has a picture of cats on it — and zone into whatever world I have chosen for those seven days.
Life may be short but reading material is infinite. I want to chip away at this world, one book at a time, from my own bookshelf. It helps me feel, especially right now, like I’m not losing out on the outside world.
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