Books are for life, not just for Christmas
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
Over the pandemic I’ve read over 80 books. Fuelled mostly by my ‘to read’ shelf, book swaps with friends and boxes of surprise second hand books landing in the house courtesy of my partner.
I’m not complaining, he even built more shelves to put them on (furlough
projects). I wasn’t furloughed, I have had the busiest time of my life working in public health on the pandemic response until I got ill in May. I returned to work in August and now we’re hitting another wave I have been thinking about what got me through and keeps me going.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I didn’t think I’d have the time to read books as my day sort of started with Boris' 5pm press conference as I worked out what I’d be doing the next day. But as the weeks went on I found it was the only thing I could do to decompress, I’d get up and read a bit to rid my mind of stress dreams, I’d sometimes read in moments between meetings when it was overwhelmingly (benefits of working from home), and I’d read every evening before bed, weekends I would read through the day, devouring whole books in a day or two. Some of them I couldn’t even tell you what happened, some merge into others and I would get confused what world I was in, which may not sound productive but I couldn’t stop, I’d just slow down a bit when that happened, and was thankful that, for that time, I had a calmer mind. When my mind was so busy with thoughts that went from deeply personal fear about myself and my families health, to the community I serve in public health to the global consequences of a pandemic and the pressure I felt for the season. Often I just wanted to have a one track mind and reading fiction was the only thing that did it. If I watched TV I’d be there but also not there, scrolling on my phone, looking at endless news reels that I’m sure many of us feel equally repelled by and addicted to. I craved the escapism of a different space away from the pandemic. I needed to be absorbed. It’s hard to read passively. It wasn’t all stressful, I was also really excited in the first 12 months. This is what I trained for. All of my training was coming together for the first time and my mind was buzzing with thoughts of my role in it and recalling training and reading I had done in the past. I was going to need all my mind palaces for this season. (Thank you Inspector Holmes) I found purpose and remembered a phrase ‘you are called for such a time as this’. So when I got ill I also battled with a sense of letting myself and others down. I had something to give and I was unable to give it. With so much to think about there was no way mindfulness was going to help still my mind. I needed to visit a different world, take a holiday in my mind, have a break. I think reading saved my life, or at least kept me going for as long as I did and took me through my recovery.
I have always been a reader, I love fiction, my parents would find me reading by the landing light in my doorway when they came up to bed when I was small, I couldn’t stop until I fell asleep in the world I was in. On and off I have had long periods not reading, but when the going gets tough, I find fiction is my sanctuary. I’ve re-read some books that feel like a really cosy jumper even if the subject matter isn’t so delightful (love me some crime thrillers) I’ve gone into genres I haven’t before, biographies, not fiction but stories of people’s lives, fantasy (‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern Also a NaNoWriMo novel for those who embarked on that journey last month), and many stories of women (like ‘Three Women’ by Lisa Taddeo). I even discovered audio books which were amazing when I got ill and was too fatigued to read or needed a long walk in the Calne country side to just get moving (Thank you ‘Libby’ the free Library app that links to Wiltshire Libraries.)
When I could feel myself getting anxious and picking up not so helpful habits, I’d spend some time reading, when I got irritable and prone to arguing, I’d disappear off and read, when I woke up so exhausted and so so so sad, I’d disappear into someone else’s world, a
world I didn’t have to worry about, it was already written. I read a book that was frighteningly close to reality, (‘Lockdown’ by Peter May) But it wasn’t our reality. I could separate. I have felt disconnected from Calne in so many ways, especially in that first year, I buried in work, we couldn’t see anyone anyway or do many activities and I made a choice to separate really and give this year to the pandemic. I’m starting to come back now and get back involved with Wordfest, visit our friends, and I’ve even visited some places featured in some of the books I’ve read which adds a whole extra layer to the imagination. (Thank you Adam Croft and his series in Rutland Water and Phil Rickman and the Merrily Watkins series on the English/ Welsh border.) It’s been a super hard 18 months for everyone and we’ve relied on our coping skills more than ever. If I were to count mine, I think reading is absolutely top of my list I like the phrase ‘I’m too busy not to read’ and its been helpful to remind myself of this when the productivity part of me pipes up with the guilt and shame, especially as its ramping up again. We all feel exhausted. Take the time, when you can, in whatever way works best, disappear for a moment and take some weight off your mind. I highly recommend it.
Some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year:
Elly Griffiths series about Dr Ruth Galloway.%
The boy from the woods- Harlan Coben
Someone we know- Shari Lapena
Who did you tell?- Lesley Kara
The Magus of Hay- Phil Rickman (part of the Merrily Watkins series)
The Hate You Give (THUG)- Angie Thomas
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine- Gail Honeyman
Us- David Nicholls
Non fiction-even though I said it didn’t cut it, there’s still been a few that have helped me get perspective both biographies and subject books:
Jog On- Bella Mackie
Moranthology- Caitlin Moran
The Prison Doctor- Women inside- Dr Amanda Brown
Period Power- Maisie Hill
Unnatural Causes- Dr Richard Shepperd
There’s a whole reading list in the Library called ‘Reading Well’ with books about
supporting your health and well being.