I gave up on a book recently, not because I had read enough of it to determine that it wasn’t for me but because I’d spent a few days trying to get into it and the thing never happened, the thing where you sort of fall into the pages and the rest of the world disappears. I kept dragging it hopefully from one end of the house to the other in the hopes that if nothing else at least proximity would prompt me to make it past the first chapter, but I never did. Every time I picked it up it felt like work, rather than pleasure.

Granted, for me the experience of losing myself to a book has been sadly elusive over the last *checks calendar* eleven months or so. I know I’m not alone in my ongoing reading slump because there have been plenty of social posts and articles describing this issue, so I guess there is some small comfort to be found in the fact that this is a documented bug in our pandemic-life meatware.

What a big, fat, stupid bummer it is, though. I can hardly imagine a time when I have been more in need of literary escape yet so weirdly, mouthbreathingly incapable of accessing the wealth of reading material at my fingertips.

Out of the many depressingly valid reasons that 2020 made it difficult to concentrate on much of anything, it was probably the loss of routine that really borked reading for me. I’ve been a remote worker for years but I’ve always been able to wrap my day around some sort of schedule. Without the kids going to school, without any real structure to the day or the ability to work somewhere aside from my living room couch, everything just …. bleeds together. Any sense of boundaries, of work time vs relax time, have largely disappeared. There is an endless list of things to do and none of them are compartmentalized any more and my brain is less of a healthy functioning organ and more like a roiling mess of misfiled fight-or-flight chemicals and whatever twitchy dumb mental effects can be linked to nearly a year of doomscrolling.

I’m hopeful that my love for reading will eventually return, and in the meantime there is always the tactic of seeking out lighter fare (bless you, Jenny Colgan, for your endless stories of Scottish seasides, hunky men, and delicious baked goods), but goddamn, having books turn into a CHORE, one that is sometimes INSURMOUNTABLE, is a bona-fide fucking tragedy.

As the author of this article so perfectly puts it, “It’s felt like losing a friend in a time when we’ve already lost so much.”


22 Responses to “A lost friend”

  1. JennB on January 19th, 2021 2:03 pm

    Oh, HEARD.
    So much. I can’t find a good book anywhere. I despair.

  2. Kim on January 19th, 2021 2:45 pm

    I read 47 books in 2019 (I’ve kept track of my yearly number for years, i.e. I’m a Dork) and 2020? It’s all I can do to get through a David Sedaris collection and he’s one of my all-time favorites. I am having better luck with short stories vs. a novel though, so that felt like progress.

  3. ANDREA on January 19th, 2021 2:48 pm

    Reading has always been my escape. I’ve always read to the exclusion of everything else. I have lists of books I want to read. I’ve always been the type to read a book all the way through, even if I’m not into it, even if it’s torture. Last week, I returned a book to the library without finishing it. Shocked myself. Rationalized I can always check it out again if I want. ( I’m apologizing to books, now?) I suppose this is related to my inability to watch anything less fluffy than baking shows and travelogues. No suspense, no drama, I just can’t deal with anything that competes with the real life doomscape.

  4. Ginger on January 19th, 2021 2:58 pm

    I find that I take comfort in reading the books set in a certain time, that follow a trajectory that I recognize from the first page, that follow the rules that I expect, that surprise me only in the scenery or descriptive details, but do not wander from my anticipations. Comfort has never before been my main goal in reading, but for now it will do.

  5. Kelley O on January 19th, 2021 4:48 pm

    Right there with you on this, to the point where I think Goodreads needs a new category of DNF (did not finish) because marking something read when I just didn’t CARE ENOUGH to finish it artificially inflates my number of books read. So far this year, supposedly I’ve read 4 books. Uh, yeah, that would be no, I have given UP on 4 books which I started. I abandoned 17 books in 2020, 11 in 2019. 4 so far this year, and it’s only January 19th!!! I’m thinking that this year might be the year to re-read all my Stephen King books, at least I KNOW I’ll like those!

  6. Martha Pepek on January 19th, 2021 5:16 pm

    Ack! So THIS is a thing, too? I couldn’t figure out why I was unable to get through a book in 2020. I have great expectations 😉 for 2021. I am making strides to prevent myself from doom scrolling. Thank you, Linda, for always being on point!

  7. Katie B on January 19th, 2021 7:45 pm

    I hadn’t made the connection to why I’ve had so much trouble picking up books in the last year. But yes, everything you said above. Duh. So frustrating because reading has always been my favorite way to relax and spend hours and now I’m so freaking jittery and can’t sit still. Ugh.

  8. Barb on January 19th, 2021 9:37 pm

    Serious reading has definitely been beyond my abilities this past year. Like you, I’ve taken refuge in fluff books — I’m part of the Bloggess’s book club but most shamefully haven’t read a single book from it. Even a book I know I will love — Stephen Graham Jones’ “The Only Good Indians” — has simply sat on my shelf while I try to find and drag my motivation from whatever dusty corner it’s currently hiding in. Thank god for the Libby app — I can check books out, consider reading them while the covers stare out at me, accusingly, and turn them back in with a sigh of relief when I see that some other soul has placed it on hold. “Let them go ahead and enjoy it,” I tell myself. “Next time I check it out, I’ll *totally* read it for sure.”

  9. Melissa on January 19th, 2021 10:01 pm

    I totally get it – I have read books since Covid started that everyone loved and that I thought I would love that have just left me feeling “eh.”

    But we are all losing so much right now – no one deserves to lose books on top of everything else. Try something new – maybe a genre you’ve never read before? Pick the opposite of whatever you’d normally read or something you don’t think is your thing. If you end up hating it, that’s ok, no great loss because you didn’t think you’d like it anyway! But hey, maybe it might be the key to get you back into reading for pleasure. Also, don’t forget about graphic novels. There are lots of options that are not comic-like (if that’s not your thing). There are even nonfiction graphic novels. When it’s hard to focus, it might help to have pictures to help tell the story.

  10. Anonymous on January 19th, 2021 10:37 pm

    You all need an Audible subscription! TRUST ME! Not only do you get credits for books but they now have a catalog of books and podcasts available with your membership, and while some are real stinkers, there have been plenty of very entertaining read/listens. I honestly don’t think I could survive this insane time without Audible and my airpods (pro! The noise canceling feature is like a hot tub for your ears, I make the same “ahhh” sound when I put in my earphones as I do when I get into the hot tub for real!). The legal weed and aforementioned hot tub help but truly the audiobooks are a tremendous help, especially on walks.

  11. AnnaMay on January 20th, 2021 12:26 am

    A man called Ove…I too was in a reading slump but this book just did something to me that made me love reading again AND restored my faith in humaness…It’s translated from dutch(? 🧐) so is a little stifled in places in but had me in tears right through the book

  12. Amber on January 20th, 2021 9:17 am

    I have been in a similar reading slump this year. The only books that did that magic thing where they pull you in and won’t let go were all the Grady Hendrix ones. (Literally all of them. I read Horrorstor several years back, but read the rest of his books this year.) My favorite was My Best Friend’s Exorcism — have you tried that one? I loved it: horror, 80s nostalgia, big humor, surprisingly touching and sweet in the end. It ticked all my “reading is fun” boxes.

  13. Shawna on January 20th, 2021 9:22 am

    I have found that the pandemic and resultant doomscrolling has literally affected my eyes (it’s harder to focus than it used to be and things are especially fuzzy in the mornings, though I’ll acknowledge some of the difference is likely due to age as well), and I have found it hard to pick up a book, whether paper or ebook. And of course this is during a time when I am avoiding all unnecessary activities that bring people close to my face like, oh, optometrists and dentists. My salvation has been audiobooks, which I can listen to while working my way through the mindless household tasks that didn’t cease just because normal life did (cooking, cleaning, etc.).

  14. Pat Birnie on January 20th, 2021 11:22 am

    WOW – well I’m so sorry Linda (and the rest of you) that have lost the ability to escape and forget the world by getting lost in a book this year. I am obviously in the minority as I’ve read more in the past 9 months, than I have since I was a kid with nothing else to do. I didn’t realize that it was ‘a thing’. Maybe the solution is to pick up a good mystery – light but one that keeps you turning the pages! And yes A Man Called Ove is a lovely book, so touching.

  15. Juli on January 20th, 2021 5:18 pm

    Agreed. I can’t remember a time when I picked up a book and HAD to read. It’s been years I think. Youngest always used books as an escape. I was devastated when he stopped reading and started into the more traditional escapes of a 16 year old boy.

    He’s struggling everyday to “survive” the COVID world that stole so much from his 18 year old self. He’s still not willing to see so much of the struggle is his current favorite way of escape, pot (legal here). But he HAS started reading again, many nights when I expect to see him scrolling or passed out cold, I find him reading in his bed.

    Sometimes I find him clutching the book in his hands as he sleeps. That makes my heart happiest.

  16. Hillary on January 21st, 2021 8:45 am

    I’ve probably bailed on more books in the last year than the rest of my life combined. I’ve done a lot of re-reading of old favorites. And I’ve noticed that the new books that have worked for me are not my usual — they’re gentle stories where all of the problems are solvable and the people really care about each other. Well, that and urban fantasy, because at least we don’t have to worry about creatures out of myth and/or another dimension right now.

  17. Courtney on January 21st, 2021 2:16 pm

    Oh, I totally understand. I looooved Life After Life, but I cannot get through the companion book at all. The only thing I can do is light rom-com stuff (Jasmine Guillory is great, although I do wish I could punch up the dialogue just a smidge). I do love Jenny Colgan! Thanks for that reminder–I’ll have to see if there are any I haven’t read yet.

  18. 303 bookworm on January 23rd, 2021 7:47 pm

    May I recommend “this is going to hurt: secret diaries of a junior doctor” by Adam Kay? It has an underlying grimness of the realities of working in the British national health service (NHS) and a relationship imploding because it, but that never takes centre stage. The book is based on Adam’s diary entries and is written with wit and honesty and brilliant articulation (all the things I find here). Best of all, each entry is a vignette and stands on it’s own. So you can read one or two and leave it at that, or finish the whole thing in an evening as I did (however that was pre Covid). I may have also fallen off the couch at one point, I was laughing so hard.

  19. Auntie G on January 28th, 2021 1:40 pm

    Reading is my FAVORITE hobby and I have struggled to read anything in COVID times. 100% all of this. I miss it so much, but every time I try to hunker down in bed to read, my brain is like NOPE TOO THINKY and I’m back to the interwebs or re-watching Schitt’s Creek. Sigh.

  20. Kristin on February 1st, 2021 1:04 pm

    I LOVE Jenny Colgan books. I would like to never run out of her books.

  21. Betsy on February 5th, 2021 9:46 am

    I am reading the third of Jenny Colgan’s Scottish bookshop series right now and am reading it right on the heels of the second one in the series. I read the first one several years ago on kindle, but I just bought all 3 of them in hard cover because they are so fun/comforting that I need to have them on my shelf. This is my attempt to spur the pandemic economy – buying comfort books! :)

  22. Vanessa on February 16th, 2021 7:41 pm

    I have been struggling for a couple of years now (with violence, torture, tension) but everything stalled further this past year. What I am doing is reading just a chapter a day, it’s on my to-do list so I have to. I am getting thru that way, sometimes I forget and read two chapters. And yes, I can recommend “This is Going to Hurt” that 303 bookworm mentioned – very funny!

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