2020 has not been a great year for reading so far. It just has not been in my priority. Between bereavement at the start of the year (expected, but still shakes up the routine), feeling overwhelmed with work and then, the big one, COVID-19, 2020 is not going to be a very good reading year.
This blog has been practically inactive, and you’ve probably noticed the lack of at the very least my monthly wrap-up posts, though I did manage to perk up in April to take part in the OWLs Readathon, which I’m really glad about. I still watch BookTube, but to a lesser extent than I used to and it all feels a little unsteady at the moment anyway. I still participate in Lauren and the Books’ low-key reading evening ‘Cosy Reading Night’ every so often. But I’m just not seeking out readalongs and readathons with quite as much gusto as I used to.
It’s easy to blame coronavirus. Every other part of life has been disrupted by this pandemic, so why not reading? At first, I actually felt a strange sense of detachment and guilt when it came to this. Because I’m an introvert who was told to stay indoors, to work from home, to not see people… surely that should be my jam? But, no, what it did instead was ruined the work/life balance, made creating any sense of routine difficult, obliterated pre-set ‘reading time’ (i.e. my commute and lunch breaks), and made all the days blur into one.
Surprisingly, I think it’s the last one that’s actually the reason why I haven’t been reading very consistently. Nowadays, three days can pass before I realise that I haven’t so much as touched a book. And, for me, a perpetual book nerd and someone who very much identifies as a reader, this has been the most shocking thing.
At first I felt a sense of guilt about it. Because I was seeing all these people on social media who were tearing through books, who (in that sense only) were “thriving” in lockdown because it meant they spent their times consuming as much culture and as many exciting stories as they could, to educate, to distract, to enrich the mundanity of life under lockdown. Or they had picked up a new hobby or were learning a skill, teaching themselves piano or I don’t know card tricks. They had found a way to turn something that sucked into a time to keep their chin up and do something.
I felt guilty – why wasn’t I like them? Why wasn’t I finishing books? Why wasn’t I watching more TV even? Why wasn’t I brushing off my very rusty Spanish skills?
And then I realised, the thing I have been doing is that I’ve been writing more.
When I spend any amount of sustained periods of time indoors, I start to spiral – my housemate can attest to this – and my mental health takes a nosedive. And we’re talking BC here – before Corona. I know part of this feeling is pure guilt, guilt that I am in a comfortable position in life and yet I’m not… living it, but rather choosing to stay inside and wallow and not do anything with my weekend, even if I know I do need to recharge. I’d say at least once a month, if I didn’t make weekend plans (even if those plans were just to go out to breakfast), I would spiral into that weird dissociative thinking where I felt like I didn’t… exist because I had spent all weekend indoors and hadn’t interacted with the outside world at all. It wasn’t true disassociation, because I could pull myself out of it immediately once I started to feel like shit, but I do have the tendencies of it.
So you can imagine how, COVID-19 necessitating that the world go into lockdown and stay safe at home is… a lot. But I’ve been surprised that, aside from a few blips, I’ve just accepted it. Because I am able to safely remain at home, I can still work from home and don’t have to go out and risk my health and that of my family to go to work on the frontline, I am in an enormously privileged position. All I need to do is stay at home and that thought used to terrify me because of my mental health but honestly? I’ve been slightly surprised by myself.
And I think that, for me right now, writing is my way of putting something out into the universe. My way of asserting a claim to being present and existing… because I’ve been indoors, sure, and I’ve not interacting with anyone other than my housemate, but I’ve also created something myself. For now (and I do hope it is only for now), reading feels too passive for me personally. I desperately love consuming stories so I desperately hope that my love (and my habit) of reading will come back to me, but I need to stop beating myself up if me and reading are taking a break right now. I need to be happy that I’ve found that, for now, writing is my way of existing and that is the thing that ultimately helps significantly more with my mental health.
So maybe 2020 isn’t a reading year. Maybe I won’t succeed at any of my reading challenges. Maybe I won’t blog all that much. Maybe I won’t finish that TV show I’ve been meaning to watch nor that book that’s sitting half-read on my bedside table. But that’s ok. Because to say 2020 is proving unprecedented is an understatement right now and maybe just existing (in whatever shape that takes, be it writing, be it reading, be it rewatch TV shows) is more than ok.
Because, if nothing else, this is a time to be kind to yourself and to stay safe.
I hope you’re all doing ok and are staying safe and well as much as you can in these very stressful and uncertain times. If you are reading, what are you reading right now? I weirdly chose to ignore all the people who told me not to and read a book about a pandemic during a pandemic and found it incredible (Station Eleven if you’re wondering) and strangely… comforting, in the weirdest of ways. If you’re not reading, what are you watching on TV? Or have you picked up a new hobby? Or have you been able to spend more time with your family at home? Or how are you filling your days? Please do let me know in the comments below!