Thoughtful Thursday: Reading during a pandemic

If you’re coming to this site, then you’re most likely a fellow reader. Which means during these unsettled times, like us, when you can, you take refuge in what has always been a solace to you — books. That’s often a connecting thread amongst readers, though how we find that needed comfort varies.

Some of us may find it by learning as much as we can about what’s scaring us, tracking the idea of “knowledge is power” and so giving us a semblance of control, even if it’s illusory. Even if we know it’s illusory. So we read everything on this particular virus, or infectious diseases, or histories of, say, the Spanish Flu. Other may go the opposite path, turning away from the too-real world and diving headlong into fantasy, the more removed from our own world the better. Give me dragons! Give me invincible Dark Lords overcome! Or maybe we’ll go the obvious route: I’m feeling sad; I’ll find a book that will make me laugh (or read some Pratchett and kill two birds with one tome).

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Some of us, we know who we are, take that and spin it 180. This world is making me sad; I’ll find a made-up one even sadder. Give me something that breaks my heart (but in, you know, a good way). Or, in a similar vein, this feels like the end of the world? Fine, screw you real world! I’ll read about the actual end of the world, dammit. I’m looking at you Station ElevenOryx and CrakeThe Stand, or (combining break-my-heart with End-of-the World), you The Road. Or (combining End of the World with Make Me Laugh), you Cat’s Cradle or Shaun of the Dead (ok, ok, it’s a movie, even readers turn on the TV now and then).

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron Possibly it’s a dip into the formulaic. Give me a mystery series with the same beats: complaint about the ex-wife/ex-husband on page 31, wrong accusation on page 115, argument with the boss on page 154, second murder on page 167, cue big reveal. Or a dip into the warmly familiar. Slipping into that well-read, dog-eared, spine-tired copy of LoTR  or The Little Prince, or something by Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, Anne Tyler (really, is there anyone more warmly comforting than Anne Tyler?). Or going back to a more innocent time, an Andre Norton or Lloyd Alexander. Hell, I may just go back to The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (and yes, I do have a copy… And the sequels).

So what about you? Are you reading? More or less? As usual or has something changed? Has this virus, which has changed so much about our world and our lives, changed anything about your reading as well? Let us know how you’re doing and how you’re reading.

And now, I have to go find that Mushroom Planet book… (I’m lying; I know exactly what shelf it’s on.)

As usual, one commenter will choose a book from our stacks.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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  1. John Smith /

    I’m reading about the same. And I’m watching episodes of an old Australian portmanteau horror TV series from the early 1970s.

  2. I’m currently halfway through Joe Hill‘s The Fireman, which is a pandemic story as well as a post-apocalyptic one. I’m greatly enjoying it so far.

  3. Paul Connelly /

    Tackling some of those weighty novels that have sat on my shelves unread for decades due to their daunting page count. And more random non-fiction books than usual.

  4. Treebranch /

    I’m still working so I don’t have any more time than I had before to read but somehow I seem to be reading faster and turning those pages like I’ve never done before. For me it’s all about escapism. Am plowing my way through 3 novels that take place within the world of Battlestar Galactica. Give me a cylon attack over a corona virus any day!

  5. Noneofyourbusiness /

    My reading habits haven’t really changed; as usual, I’m still alternating chapters of fictional and non-fictional books and articles so that I don’t feel stuck in any one book.

  6. I’ve continued to balance my schoolwork with my independent reading. However, I need a new e-reader, so things are about to get very interesting.

  7. Lady Morar /

    I’ve been reading a lot of the Mental Floss books, like Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets and the Genius Instruction manual. They’re short, funny and educational.

  8. I’ve been having trouble reading due to low-level anxiety/busy/etc. The longest thing was a reread of Network Effect. Otherwise I’ve been reading shorts up to a few novellas. Eh. I picked up Witchmark and Gideon the Ninth through Tor’s sale this week and may continue with Gideon. I’ve got a line on an ARC of Kate Elliott’s Unconquerable Sun. If that comes through, that’s likely be next.

    Things have been going better starting from the end of last week.

    • Ah! I forgot that I now have ebooks of Zenna Henderson’s Ingathering (the People stories) and Believing (a collection of her other stories). They would be good reading right now.

      If you’re not familiar with the People, they’re refugees from a destroyed world, now on earth and trying to survive. They’re set in the american southwest, early to mid-20th century. Very feel-good stories of people (har-har) finding happiness or family or just hope.

    • So many people are struggling with anxiety and sadness right now. For my part some of the anxiety comes from the fact that the future is more of an unknown than usual right now. I mean even when big future issues were unknown (always) there were day to day routines whose sameness instilled security. Now every one of those systems is different!

      And I love The People books. That WOULD be a great read right about now.

  9. The Distinguished Professor /

    I exhausted the books in my study, so I had my son order “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” for me recently.

  10. Sethia /

    I have actually been reading less. :( I now have three homeschooled kids and one stay at home husband. Though my books of choice recently have been the “escape” type.

  11. SandyG /

    I’ve been reading about the same amount but I’ve been reading mostly cozy mysteries since I’m having trouble getting into anything else.

  12. Almost exclusively reading student work (for one more week), but I introduced my son to the Tony HIllerman mysteries and have reread two along with him (will start the third tonight). Comforting to slip back into that series, which I was happy to see still rewarded. I’m less willing at this point of how I’m feeling to work my way through not-really-good fiction, so once I’m done with papers I’ll carefully choose my next review books–looking forward to Susanna Clarke, David Mitchell, Keven Brockmeier, and the promise of quality.

  13. Other than some new books, I’ve been rereading. I reread the C.L. Polk fantasy novels WITCHMARK and STORM-SONG so I could discuss them with a friend who had just read them. I’ve been giving my non-fiction shelf a long look these days and I may pick out a few of them.

    And I’m reading a lot in manuscript.

  14. Kevin S. /

    I’m a school teacher working from home now, and I’m reading a little more than usual. I set a goal of getting thru as much of the Wheel of Time series as I could while sheltering in place. I only got thru The Dragon Reborn (book 3) and I just wasn’t enjoying myself. Now I’m trying to get thru all eight books in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey. I just finished the sixth book and I’m taking a brief break by reading Dune.

  15. I find I’m too busy writing or gardening to read at the moment which is a shame. I’ve just started Claire MacKenna’s debut Monstrous Hearts though. Looks great. Also Binge watched the Last Kingdom. No way I could face Oryx and Crack at the moment. Too much reality is not a good thing.

  16. I haven’t changed how or what I read, but I keep noticing connections between what I read and what we’re going through now. I also feel like stuff (especially world-ending kind of stuff) seems more POSSIBLE than it did a few months ago.

    • Noneofyourbusiness /

      Same to all.

    • Kevin S. /

      Me too, Kat. I wanted to read Stephen King’s The Stand when we first went into lockdown but I sold my copy in a yard sale last summer and there’s a long waiting list for it at the library.

  17. Treebranch, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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