Trouble Reading? Us too.

I have a friend who worked as a tour guide in NYC before *gestures at all this*. She regularly made the trek by ferry from Lower Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with a gaggle of tourists. She visited so much that she began to feel as though Lady Liberty were speaking to her as the ferry approached. To my friend, her voice sounded like Owen Wilson’s (she’s a gifted storyteller). I share this because I think the books on my bedside table might start talking to me, and they won’t say anything nice.

Even before we woke up in Stephen King’s nightmare, I had trouble diving into a good read. It has taken me longer to become absorbed in a book, and I can’t blame my phone for it. Our current circumstances have made it even more challenging. This informative Vox piece explains that we can’t concentrate these days because we’re anxious (duh). While anxiety manifests differently in all of us, we generally can’t concentrate because we’re living in uncertain times, and our search for the answers reinforces this uncertainty. Hence why we can’t read more than a page of the latest Emma Straub after our deep dive into antibody tests.

Not only have I not been able to read, I haven’t been able to write. I took the vacations days I had planned for LL’s wedding, imagining all the reading and writing and organizing and learning I would get done. I had outlined this post almost two weeks ago, envisioning the blogging benchmarks I would smash by the end of the month (the ego knows no bounds). Then Memorial Day rolled around, and all I could do was bake cobbler and watch Sweet Magnolias (the ego seeks solace in Ben & Jerry).

During this time, I reorganized my bookshelves to collect all the books I hadn’t read. It’s half a Billy bookcase. The guilt and inadequacy are crushing. And what makes it worse? Realizing the only books you really want to read are “beach reads.” I want charm and decadence and hometown crushes. The things the guy in your MFA program would put his cigarette out on (who am I kidding? He vapes now). The anxiety-guilt-inadequacy spiral becomes a vortex.

It has taken a pandemic to learn this lesson: have compassion. Will the world stop spinning if I don’t read 10 chapters of Manhattan Beach this weekend, or pen 6 posts a month? Am I less of a person because of those things? The answer is obviously no, but it’s harder to reach that conclusion when it seems our output is the only thing we can control these days. We all need reminders to find enjoyment where we can, and let go of the judgments of others. Emma Straub put it best: “the only feeling that people should have about books they haven’t read yet is HOPE!”

Now, instead of anticipating taunts, I imagine soothing voices coming from the spines on my shelves, saying they will be here when I’m ready. The itch for an afternoon spent watching the sun pass over the edges of a paperback is slowly returning, and I hope to spend more days this summer (safely indoors or masking in the sunshine) tucked into a book. Whatever book I freaking want.

Until next time,

EV

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