As I said earlier this month, in a more optimistic – or head-in-the-sand mentality – there are good things about the coronavirus pandemic, an obvious one to this blog’s readers being more time to read. On the other hand, while we might find unexpected gaps in our schedules, anxiety consumes vast quantities of headspace, reducing our capacity for, on some days, anything more taxing than watching cat videos and repurposing unloved paperbacks as toilet tissue. So I’ve been wondering whether I, you, or anyone else, reads differently in times of high anxiety. What do you think?
Fact versus fiction?
Does fiction seem too frivolous when real life is deathly serious? I recall, after the tragedy of 9/11, well-known novelists reporting they’d lost their passion for writing; it didn’t make sense anymore. Some readers no doubt shared their sentiments, while others look for comfort in books. My personal preference being for fiction over non-fiction, I automatically think of novels, rather than the shelves and shelves of self-help literature others might crave. I suppose if you want an answer, non-fiction is the place to go but, when we’re vulnerable, it’s extra hard to distinguish fact from opinion and we all know there’s a lot of baloney out there. So some will gravitate to popular science by writers with expertise to distil the facts and serve them to us in an engaging way. But even they demand of readers a degree of concentration that might, in stressful times, be in short supply.
Long versus short?
Long books can seem daunting at the best of times; if it’s important for us to maximise our chances of getting it finished, a short book might have more appeal. On the other hand, especially perhaps with novels, it’s often a book’s early chapters that are the most difficult as we adapt to the real or fictional landscape and the author’s unique style. That would suggest long books would be the better choice as, if we read several books, the proportion of pages where we’re feeling adrift would be lower overall. Generally, I prefer novels of standard length – about 300 pages – not too short and not too long but, having chanced to pick up a novel twice that length – The Other Bennet Sister – at my most anxious time recently, there are definitely exceptions for the right book.
Engagement versus escapism?
Set over two centuries ago, in a culture where respectable women had little agency, The Other Bennet Sister is pure escapism, a place to forget our current crisis. But we also look to fiction, if not quite for answers, then certainly for a deeper understanding of the human predicament. I believe that truth can be found in fiction, in a different way, but of equal merit, so long as it’s appropriate to the circumstances, as in fact. So should we now be drawn to novels about a killer virus? Towards the end of last year, I enjoyed two novels about The Black Death, but I really don’t know if, right now, they’d feel too close to home.
Sober versus comic?
I love it when a novel makes me laugh, so why don’t I go looking for humorous fiction? I think because a joke that misses its target is more depressing than no joke at all. But, liking a balance between dark and light in my reading, I avoid anything overly bleak, and I think that would be especially the case in these harsh times. (And I do hope I’ve got the balance right in my forthcoming third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, which is more tragic, but definitely funnier, then my previous books.) You can find some of the humorous fiction I’ve reviewed by following this thread.
An extra big thank you for giving my words your time right now, and I’d love to know what you think. Has the virus impacted on your reading capacity and inclinations? Share your thoughts in the comments box below. Stay sane and stay safe!
If this post has caught your interest, you might also like one from last year, What should you read when unwell? For all my other posts about reading, follow this thread. Also, on April 7th I’ll be sharing some reading recommendations of lockdown literature on the Carrot Ranch Blog. I hope you can join me there. This should be the link when it’s up.
Meanwhile, you can catch up on all this month’s reviews by clicking on the image below:
In turbulent times, we rely on our leaders, not all of whom step up to the mark. Fortunately, we can lead from the back, we can lead by example, we can lead within our own spheres of influence and expertise. This week, Carrot Ranch leader, Charli Mills, is rallying writers to keep up our flash fiction routines and create a 99-word story about taking charge. Here’s mine:
Although overqualified for retail, this was her dream job. Five floors of books and hordes of readers, hungry for literary advice. As the virus bloomed, sales did too, until nonessentials were forced to close. Lockdown had a silver lining: communing with her own bookshelves.
She read in the bath, on the patio, in the snaking supermarket queue, but her focus floated away. Abandoning Moby Dick in her trolley, she approached a security guard. From a distance of two metres, she begged to go inside. Soon her PhD (in creative writing) had charge of a checkout, keeping the nation fed.