Reading in #2020

By Wednesday, December 02, 2020 , ,

Hi, friends. Wow, #2020, right? This year has wreaked havoc on many well-intentioned plans and dreams, and I confess my reading life and ability to put words on a page were among those things that were upended. But now, I’m back to share what I’ve learned and hope you’ll take what you will. Despite the many hardships of this year, I suspect I’m not the only one who can now look back in part and discern unexpected gifts that have come out of it, and though it’s relatively small in the grand scheme of things, my reading has certainly experienced some surprisingly good shifts.

My Takeaways from an Odd Reading Year 

1. Give yourself grace and adjust as you go
As life began changing so quickly in mid-March, one of the most noticeable everyday differences I experienced was a sudden inability to focus on reading, even if I’d been enjoying the book. I spaced out quickly and felt overwhelmed when I tried to read for long stretches. Thankfully, I think I had enough self-awareness to not beat myself up over this, and it was comforting to hear that mine was not an unusual experience. So, after some disappointment and adjusting of expectations, I gave myself more leeway on my reading goals for the year and didn’t try to force myself to read, especially during the most stressful early days of the pandemic. All that to say – if there’s a big stressor in your life, it’s okay to readjust. It’s okay to not be crushing 100+ pages every day. Maybe it’s a good time for new shows too (I watched several in the spring!), and maybe your brain just needs some time to catch up with the new situation. That said… 

2. Lean into your mood
I can’t emphasize this enough. I’m somewhat of a mood reader already, but also certainly choose books based on premeditated goals or because I want to be a well-rounded person. But this past spring, as I was recreating everyday routines and could almost feel my brain developing a new “reading in a pandemic” setting, I didn’t hesitate to go in whatever direction my mood took me. Sometimes that meant abandoning a book after only a chapter or two, and other times it meant returning to an old favorite for the hundredth time. It helped immensely to not force anything as my mind adjusted and learned how to cope.

3. Keep reading
That’s the most important thing, isn’t it? No matter how weary or sad your days may become, don’t give up. Keep adjusting and keep trying. The right book will come! 

What Helped My 2020 Reading

1. Poetry
This surprised me, but I’m so glad it happened. As mentioned, one of the earliest manifestations of pandemic-stress for me was a sudden inability to concentrate on reading. I couldn’t “get lost” in a book like I usually can, and this was both odd and frustrating since it would have been the ideal time to escape into another world. But I found that I wasn’t the only one experiencing the “pandemic fog” in my reading life. Apparently, a large external threat can affect the parts of the brain responsible for focus and retention! Once I understood this, I began turning to poetry since a poem doesn’t require the same length of attention as chapters worth of prose. To my relief and gratitude, it worked, and poetry soon became a lifeline and a joy. I could read several poems in one sitting within a relatively short amount of time, and even for a quick span, they helped me sit quietly and breathe deeply, leaving me a little calmer when I finished.

2. Really light and short fiction
In every sense of the word, I eased back into 300+ page books. I started with short, easy, meaningful children’s books, and slowly worked in some practical, accessible Christian living. Longer fiction was almost strictly on audio for a while, and everything I listened to fell within the “comfort reading” category – easy plots, somewhat predictable, but still good and thoughtful stories.

3. Re-reading favorites more than usual
Tried and true favorites always do wonders for me when I’m struggling. Yes, it takes time away from goals and checking off new books, but oh, how needed it is sometimes. Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, J.K. Rowling, and C.S. Lewis have done wonders for me this year, and I suspect I still may dust off at least one Susanna Kearsley book, and perhaps The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, before December is up.

Unexpected Gifts of 2020 Reading

1. Newfound love for poetry
I hope to write more soon on what a gift the poems of Wendell Berry in particular have been to me this year, but truly, they were a God-send in their simple beauty and focus on the present. And, overall, I appreciated how poetry forced me to slow down and honed my ability to stop and reflect, even if just for a few minutes at a time.

2. Reading shorter and simpler is good
There are times to return to the basics of anything, and doing so can provide needed reminders of the beauty of those basics. I think 2020 has done that for a lot of people in many areas. We’re thankful in new ways for family, health, shelter, medicine, employment, and dinners with friends. Similarly, when I was relegated to simpler books, I remembered why I love reading, and was also reminded of the deep, abiding value of a straightforward children’s story. 

3. Re-reading led me to new or remembered favorites
Little Women was one of my earliest re-reads of this year, and I could never have imagined how valuable it would prove. I picked it up again after seeing the beautiful new movie adaptation, and it served sweet reminders about grief, love, and family. Again, it made me remember why I love good stories, and it also helped me process the losses of 2020 in ways I didn’t know I would need. 

On another note, I also re-read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which I first read four years ago and didn’t find especially worth its hype. But I think my comfort both with re-reading and with watching new things this year led me back to this one. The new Netflix film adaptation of Rebecca had caught my eye, and after watching it, I decided to give the book another try. I went for the audiobook this time and couldn’t listen fast enough. It was engrossing, just haunting enough, and beautifully suspenseful. Du Maurier’s style is unlike anything else I’ve read, and I’m so glad that my penchant for re-reading this year helped it click this time, giving me a new favorite from an old read.

What have you read or learned about reading in 2020? How has your reading changed this year? What has been particularly helpful or good in your reading? I’d love to hear.

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