The entire world has changed seemingly overnight. No, that’s not true. COVID-19 had been brewing and building for months and months. Festering and threatening overseas. We knew it would come our American way, and yet. Yet! Here we are. I have been laid off from my job; have been quarantined for 40 plus days; have not seen the inside of a store of any kind; have not driven a car or talked face to face with another human being besides my Kisa. For over a month, I have been separated by screens and paranoia. I couldn’t even say goodbye to one of my closest friends for fear of contamination before he stole across borders towards a new home. Words like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Hangout, and Live Stream rule my daily existence. My insanity has been kept in check by these words, walking 8-9 miles a day, writing letters, and finishing chores I always said I would get to but never did (sewing ripped clothes, making curtains, hanging art, you name it). The one activity I haven’t done much of is…read.
Nothing bothers me more than someone saying, “think of all the time you have to read!” They mean well but they just don’t know. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time reading. When I could get away with it, my nose was constantly in a book. In the dead of winter, when the summer tides of friends had gone out, I was left with my sister and a handful of kids close in age. Close, but not quite. Dead low tide was a boy one year older. A girl three years younger. A boy two years older. A boy four years younger. No one exactly shared my birth year. I found myself turning to friends within the pages of books. Lots and lots of books. Lots and lots of friends. My dad was not a fan of these relationships. He viewed fiction as leisure or worse, laziness. “Get outside! Get some fresh air!” was his constant bark from early October through May. His bark was so biting I grew up fearing fiction was a form of loafing; something to never to be caught doing in broad daylight. I remember smuggling Nancy Drew under my shirt when I went to the school bathroom; ducking under covers with a flashlight to join Bilbo on his great adventure; climbing trees with Stephen King clenched in my teeth. Hiding to hang out with a paperback became normal.
In 2006 when I started the BookLust Challenge, I thought I had slayed the old insecurities. I thought I could spend time with a book without guilt. For fourteen years I held onto this belief as a private gospel…until I got laid off and I couldn’t sit on the couch with a book. All the old feelings of leisure, loafing, laziness came flooding back. Guilt. I realized I only read when I was killing time, waiting for something else. Constructive book devouring? I don’t know. For years, I could juggle reading 5-6 books at a time and finish 10 in a month. But! That was when I was on hold with a vendor, bored in the boardroom, waiting in line at the grocery store, fighting nerves in the doctor’s office, sitting as a passenger on long car/train/plane/boat rides. Reading kept me from waiting for anything. Take all the time you need while I finish this chapter…
I have been out of work for one month, collecting unemployment equal to my take-home pay and yet I’ve only managed to finish two books. I guess I could try to tell myself I am waiting to go back to work, but that’s too abstract for my too literal mind. Mayday! Mayday, I can’t read.
I always said I will die before I officially finish the reading Challenge. Now I know it to be true.