The Portland Phoenix

Miserable & Magical: Reading really is fundamental

While some people are using their time in quarantine to get in the best shape of their lives or to make sourdough bread that oozes up and out of the bowl, I’ve been doing something far less laborious. Shocking, right?

I’ve been spending my days laying in my bed, on the couch, or out in the grass reading more than I’ve ever read before.

While my love of books dates back much further than the start of quarantine, I’m now reading in a way I haven’t since I was a teenager. This is probably because I haven’t had this much free time since then.

I have memories of spending whole weekends completely immersed in books, oblivious to the world around me as I raced to see what would happen next. Honestly, I didn’t even realize kids in my high school were going to parties until a few years ago.

At my first job, working at a local pizza place, I’d get in trouble for reading on my lunch break and losing track of time. I would often get strange looks from my peers as I read during homeroom while they socialized. Whenever I’d say my hobby was reading, people would tell me that reading was schoolwork and therefore couldn’t be a hobby. 

Despite the naysayers, I’ve kept reading. I’ve maintained my reading habits into adulthood by bringing a book with me everywhere I go, always looking to sneak in a few pages while standing in line or waiting for a friend to show up. I read before bed with my little book light to avoid disturbing (name redacted). Books are the only things I ever want for my birthday and Christmas. And yes, I still make a list to give to my mom.

While books have always brought me comfort, they’re now one of the only things keeping me sane. Books, and the fact that my 10-year high school reunion has been postponed indefinitely. Reading for hours on end is so relaxing for me because I truly get to escape. As I said, I love getting on a page here and there while I’m out for the day, but sitting down to binge a book allows me to be fully, uninterruptedly in the story.

Some books have given me adventurous escapes, while others have put me in someone else’s relatively normal life. Giving your attention to problems that aren’t your own, reading about people who are worried about everyday problems like getting their cute coworker to notice them is a nice change of pace from wondering if you’ll survive a deadly virus and killer bees.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I’ve been coping with quarantine by reverting to childhood behaviors and activities. Reading was one of the things I mentioned – young adult novels specifically. While books aimed at teens are now tackling bigger social issues, there are still a lot of YA books that are lighthearted – which is not to say they’re not important, but it does make them good choices if you need quick reads that have happy endings. (Note: This is not the time to be reading “The Hunger Games” series; sometimes fiction hits too close to reality.) 

I will say, though, that I’m also using this time to tackle the books that have been sitting on my TBR list for a long time. For those not in the know, TBR is book speak for “to be read,” AKA the pile of books that is half wish-list and half what you swear you’ll someday, probably read if you ever have the time.

Well, the jig’s up ’cause now I’ve got all the time in the world.

Trying to be the good feminist book reader I am, I’m finally digging into one of the essential texts: “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde. This book has always intimidated me because I thought it was going to read academic, but I was completely wrong and I’m really enjoying it. I’m also considering reading “All the Light We Cannot See” because I got it like five Christmases ago and still haven’t touched it despite the good reviews. Striking a balance between books that challenge me and ones I can devour in a weekend is key for me.

During this weird and isolating time, books have been especially helpful in easing my loneliness (yes, I’m that girl whose “friends” are fictional characters). Getting into the heads and lives of characters and living with them for a few days or a week feels like I’m getting to know a real person. And with memoirs, you actually are getting to know someone real.

And unlike Zoom calls that never seem to end, you can walk away from annoying book characters without upsetting the in-laws or, you know, getting fired. 

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.

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