I read a lot less than usual during lockdown – did you? It seems ironic: having so much enforced leisure time should have been a perfect opportunity to read loads, but I just couldn’t get into it in the usual way.
Maybe it was just the general sense of discombobulation, that nothing was quite normal any more. Simple things we took for granted were suddenly complicated, and this seemed to make every aspect of life feel unfamiliar. Everyday stuff like food shopping, or working, or just leaving the house were all thrown into flux, and there was a ripple effect that seemed to touch every other aspect of life too, including for me, reading. I just didn’t feel like it.
I don’t read for escapism or to immerse myself in an alternative reality. If I did I’d probably have been devouring books during lockdown. I read to make sense of the world, and me, and everyone else. So I’m normally happy to read challenging stuff, but it felt like life was quite challenging enough already. Also the general ambience of existential crisis just made it hard to concentrate on reading, or indeed anything. I tried more light-hearted material – PG Wodehouse is my go-to in stressful times – but that seemed frivolous and jarring. And if PGW won’t cut it then nothing will.
So I resigned myself to a break from books altogether and watched boxsets in the evenings instead (Buffy, Angel and The X-Files, since you ask). That was OK for a while, but the passivity of being a viewer rather than a reader irked me. Reading for me is an active thing; the author provides some ingredients and suggests a recipe but I do the cooking. Watching a video or tv show is more like a getting a pizza delivery; it’s all prepared for you, you just open and consume. Enjoyable in the moment but not sustaining. Yes, that’s probably my choice of viewing material rather than the medium but anyway. So now it’s back to books, even if the new normal makes it hard to focus. I can’t live on junk food.
And that, dear reader, is part of the reason for starting this blog, to read with greater attention, and articulate my responses beyond ‘Ooh that was good’, or ‘Urgh that was crap’. And if an author offers a set of ingredients, each reader is going to do something different with them (to over-cook the metaphor), and that’s what makes it interesting. So there we are.