Reading (or not) in Challenging Times

Apr 9, 2020

By Rebecca Howard
Tulsa City-County Library

I need you to imagine one of those expectation-versus-reality memes to describe what my reading life is like right now. 

On one side, there is the reading in quarantine expectation, with a stack of literary classics, 500+ page tomes, and complete sets of series (I’m looking at you Wolf Hall). On the other side is reading in quarantine reality, depicted by a phone with a news feed full of Covid-19 updates, Tiger King memes, and grocery delivery options. 

Sure, “safer at home” sounds like a reader’s paradise. All of your social commitments are cancelled, and you shouldn’t leave the house. You have shelves full of books and a phone loaded with every app the library offers. This ordinarily sounds like the stuff of my dreams. But now that I have more time, sustaining the concentration necessary to read is really tough.

With an active, anxious brain that is worrying over loved ones, healthcare workers, library customers, and the newly unemployed, quieting my thoughts long enough to get lost in a story has been next to impossible. This inability to do something that is so integral to my identity is unsettling to say the least. 

If you find yourself feeling the same, you’re not alone. In a recent blog post, Book Riot contributor Sheila Loesch shared some advice for fellow readers who were mourning their usual comforting connecting to the written word. In it, Loesch describes how information overload is leaving many of us unable to process stories, and she suggests a few story-adjacent options like audiobooks or podcasts. 

In previous reading slumps, I have had my own salve. In times of worry, anxiety, or grief, I go to my poetry books. Mary Oliver is a favorite. I’ve been reading a poem each morning from Oliver’s collection Devotions, which contains selected poems from 26 previous published works dating from 1965-2015. If you want to hear a poem, you can call the Tulsa City-County Library, where we have set up an option for you to hear a different poem each day throughout the month of April read by one of our library staff members. And of course, I would never leave you without a list. Here is a compilation of some of my favorite digitally available poetry to help see you through these days. 

Happy National Poetry Month! Until we meet (and read) again.