Reading in the Time of COVID-19

Janice Batzdorff, Librarian,
Author's ebooks, music and tv show selections during the COVID-19 pandemic
Author's e-books, music and TV show selections during the COVID-19 pandemic

When the library closed almost three months ago, I checked out eight books. I’ve finished two of them. This is unusual for someone who reads everywhere—in checkout lines, on the Metro, at Dodger Stadium, even during social gatherings to take a break from the extroverts. Maybe that’s the problem. "Everywhere" has shrunk to almost nowhere. When sheltering at home began, I picked up a romance by Robyn Carr, and devoured it. Like an empty calorie meal, it was tasty but so lacking in substance; I don’t even remember the title.

Next, I encountered some marvelously quirky, intelligent, and average looking characters in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. One individual extends the hand of friendship to a scarred coworker, setting in motion a tangled healing process. This debut novel by Scottish author Gail Honeyman nourished me.

Nonetheless, I then stopped reading.

Or did I?

Yes, I have forsaken books, but I incessantly read the news. To counterbalance the grim content, I watch a lighthearted TV series, The Great British Baking Show; terms like chuffed and knackered, or caster sugar and cling film, send me to the dictionary though, so I’m now reading during baking contests.

In my own kitchen, just to prepare a meal without familiar ingredients, I read recipes.

Even while watching and listening to the magnificent free daily live-streaming operas from the New York Met, I read English subtitles for up to two or three hours.

Out of the blue, an e-book on meditation I had placed on hold, became available. In 10% Happier, Dan Harris beguiles the reader by disclosing some unfiltered, disdainful attitudes he once held toward practitioners of this discipline. Suddenly I was laughing and was able to stay engaged throughout this high octane, and name-dropping filled narrative of a journey that culminates in embracing mindful meditation.

While following Dan Harris’s gentle guidance on how to begin this spiritual practice, it dawned on me that meditation involves no reading! The author, an anchor, and correspondent for network television was concerned that he would lose his professional edge if he meditated. I, a book-loving librarian, wondered if I would lose the ability to read.

A few days into my fledgling meditation practice, I needed to finish an Always Available Classics selection for the book club I facilitate. To block out distracting noise in my household, I listened to symphonic music while I read. The sounds relaxed me and helped me focus. Not once, while reading that dreary book, did I sneak off to check the news.

I won’t be riding the shuttle to the Hollywood Bowl this season as the venue will be silent for the first time in its history. But if I rein in enough excessive reading, on summer nights I’ll be able to sit outside absorbed in a good book, enjoying the sounds of Bowl regulars Gustavo Dudamel, Chick Corea, John Williams, and Herbie Hancock.