I hope you and your family are doing well. Welcome to The Book Life, a type of post that I’m hoping to be more regular with. It talks about how things are going but from a reader’s perspective. It’s August and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all gotten used to a new way of living. I’m a biologist and to me, the shelter in place has felt like an incubation reaction: we’re forced to sit with our individual circumstances, to grow where we are, and hopefully, we will emerge with new tools for life. Again, there are so many individual circumstances and I want to steer away from generalizations, but it does seem like we’ve had to weather our personal storms, enjoy our triumphs in ways that may not have seemed possible or desirable prior to this year and grow, albeit in different ways. Have we always done this? Maybe. After all, we live individual lives, each with unique sets of circumstances- no two people have exactly the same lives. Maybe we have always lived like this but 2020 has brought it into focus.
As a reader, I’ve noticed that my reading has diverged to include two distinct groups: 1) books I’m reading to learn something and to engage with life in a more informed way, (all kinds of non-fiction) and 2) books that have guaranteed happily-ever-after endings (e.g. romance novels).
There is a quote attributed to Nora Ephron: “Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.” The words brought home yet another beautiful contrast: reading as a way to escape the immediacy of our life, and reading to learn, so that we may be more present and more engaged with life. I have always thought of my reading as a happy escape into adventure or as a way to educate myself but in 2020, it’s apparent that it is also a coping mechanism, helping with anxiety about the uncertainty in the world today. There is immense comfort to be found in reading a novel where you know everything’s going to work out in the end but I have also found myself dipping in and out of Rilke’s Letters to a young poet and the translated Rumi because they assure me that others have navigated the up’s and down’s of life and found, in Frost’s words, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.“
What have you noticed about your reading habits in 2020? I would love to hear from you. Take care!