When I was setting my resolutions for 2020 (little had I known!), I was seeking mainly for things that would add value to my everyday life and spark joy. Yes, it sounds awfully Marie Kondo but it essentially true. As a result, one of the resolutions I settled one was “to read more non-fiction”.
You see, I’m very capable of tirelessly (and often sleeplessly) working my way through novel after novel but, from some point onwards, I wanted to combine my love for reading with another one: the love for learning. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone a bit, challenge myself and learn about things in which I hadn’t shown a particular interest before.
As a result, I picked a significantly lower number of books for my annual Goodreads challenge, going from 45 in 2019 to 30 as I expected my reading pace to slow down significantly while on my non-fiction journey.
Almost halfway through 2020 and about twenty seven books in, I realised not only that I’m about to meet my goal a lot quicker than I had ever imagined but that I had worked my way through an astounding number of thirteen books since the social distancing measures for Covid-19 were put in effect for the UK.
Now, I’m not saying that you should necessarily do the same. I won’t preach for incessant productivity through these challenging times. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms: for other it might be keeping busy 24/7, delving into a new hobby (water colouring becoming increasingly popular), testing every single recipe from Ottolenghi’s Simple, social butterflying on Zoom, or simply relaxing. Doing nothing. ‘Finishing’ Netflix, if this could ever be possible. There’s this thing called Tiktok but I feel too old to familiarise myself with it.
Having said that, I strongly believe that books are a great escape when you seek to distance yourself from the constant – and stressful – news stream, the overload of social media, the understandable health and finance-related worries we all carry with us. Seeing that a lot of people vowed to read more during the quarantine to make the most more out of the circumstances, I have a tip – or two – to offer. From a voracious reader to aspiring voracious readers, here’s my advice:
Read for joy. Don’t try to tackle the classics or what I like to call the ‘aspirational reads’ for the sake of reading them. Yes, it’s an invaluable experience to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or Joyce’s Ulysses, and probably everyone should do it once their life. [Highly contested point made over here.] But similarly to my trying to read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment while slathered in tanning oil at the beach half a decade ago, it’s not necessarily a good idea.
If this type of reads is the distraction your brain craves at the moment, then go for it. If not, avoid introducing another factor in your life that would add stress or guilt to your life. There’s the right time for everything, suggested the ancient Greek poet Theognis of Megara. Including books, would add millennial Katerina of North London.
Join a book club. If you cannot find one, start your own. Firstly, it’s a great way to socialise and make new friends at a time where social distancing requires us to spend time away from our loved ones and, often, people altogether if you’re living on your own.
Secondly, it’s a great way to discover new books and authors. After the book club that I started had its first meeting, we started adding book suggestions to a large spreadsheet for us to choose our next read. I was excited to see some books I’ve already read and loved, and some that were on my to-read list as well. But I was more enthusiastic about looking up all the books that had never registered on my radar before. Needless to say, my to-read list has kept on growing.
Last but not least, it has allowed me to discuss books in a depth I wouldn’t normally do, even though my flatmates or my family and I frequently chat about what we’re currently reading. This led to discovering how the book resonated with other people and explore different perspectives or notice details that might had escaped me.
[Also – and this in not book-related – it made me realise once more the sheer brilliance, sensitivity and passion of people who surround me, all coming from different paths of my life. Thank you.]
Consider audiobooks. ‘How can you really focus on an audiobook; I think I’d be too distracted’ or ‘Do they actually count as books?’ Well, yes, they’re legit books, especially if you decide so. And focusing gets some trying, but you’ll be hooked before you realise, especially if you’ve been a podcast enthusiast as well.
To be honest, I was very sceptical about them too until a friend introduced me to Scribd, a subscription app that gives you unlimited access to a plethora of eBooks and audiobooks for a value-for-money monthly fee.* I’ve since realised that audiobooks are the perfect companions for my single daily allocated exercise outing, may that be a run or a long walk, or simply for doing house chores. As the aforementioned friend once said, “I have some dish washing to do, let me start a new audiobook.”
Having the book narrated often adds to the overall experience. For instance, I was struggling with finishing Michelle Obama’s Becoming ahead of my book club meeting when I switched to the audiobook, which is narrated by no one else but Michelle herself. Her voice, soothing and assertive at the same time, helped me work my way through the book on time.