Wednesday 19 May 2021

Reading in difficult times

 One has to admit that reading is a highly inclusive and individual activity which cuts one off from the immediate environs and of course the world outside. While it is a worthy and much commended activity, it also reeks of privilege and a certain 'social uppity.' I realised this the past year and pretty much this year too. I could not read! I could not allow myself to wander and get lost in the pages of a book. It felt snobbish and unkind. I did not read much. Every time I had allowed my self to open a book, I had to close it after a few pages. A disclaimer here: I did admire those who could read and complete books during these grim times and I do not intend to cast aspersions on them. 

For me, it felt heavy to relax with a book and complete it. If I did pick up a book, I took lot of time to turn the pages and sometimes body fatigue got the better of me. Go to see, reading is definitely an act of privilege - that one could cocoon oneself with a book sans care, sans time and sans many aspects stands testament to that. Here I am not even including the privilege of education, ability to possess and borrow books and afford the luxury of knowing good books. 

In spite of all the privileges and sense of escape that books offer, I could not see myself as anyone else but one who loves a good read. I have read through sickness, through my doctoral journey, my heartbreaks, my anger, my feelings of being incompetent and many other such predicaments. But all these also do not prevent me from seeing the point that books are meant for a time - every time cannot be reading time. Of course, there might be many who would argue otherwise but this deliberation belongs to me and how I see them. 

The last two years (Beginning 2020 March) has been particularly difficult for me in terms of reading. I haven't been reading as much as I would have liked to but I do pick up an occasional book only to crawl through the pages rather unwillingly. There are times when I would want to lose myself and shut the world off deliberately and hence I read. Sometimes I read because I start panicking whether I would lose my love of the written word and therefore I shouldn't keep away too long from reading. But could one forget to read, I wonder. Common sense says 'no' but my inner compass admonishes me.

Of late, I forced myself to pick up Albert Camus' The Plague - a fitting volume for the present day and time. And after long, the book engaged me enough that I did not put it away. After all, it's a mirror to the times that we are living. It is unputdownable for the reason that Camus seems to have imagined every single aspect of the pandemic in great detail. Every situation and sentiment in the book made me think of the present day predicament and it has been captured so well. Nothing goes unpredictable. Every single thought that has been described by the narrator has oft covered my mind - the feeling of exile, the thought that this phase is temporary, the despair of not being able to travel, the longing to connect to a loved one far away - it’s so eerily similar that I started feeling that if even one of our political leaders had read this book, they would’ve been able to understand the workings of how to handle an epidemic.

I’ve still not completed the volume but whatever I have read is enough to write this. I forgot to add - this book was picked up when we were in the midst of a power cut which lasted for 63 hours.

Has the pandemic altered your reading habits?


  1. My feelings exactly.
    The truth is that even before the pandemic, I've preferred reality to escapism. My line of reading is usually non-fiction, and I have little patience for most kind of TV programs. It has to do with age too. I'm in my seventies, and my life experience makes me consider a lot of things in the past as waste of precious time.

  2. Glad to see you dear DUTA. We have been reading about Israel and often you crossed my mind. Hope you have been well. TV programs - you're right but I never thought that I would be unable to read. 70s! My gosh! You're an inspiration.
    Stay safe and take care.

  3. My mind went to slush over the 14 months of mostly lockdown. I was still able to read relatively short journal articles, but complete books were mostly beyond my concentration span. So I too admired those who could read and complete books during these grim time, especially my beloved - he read more than ever.

    Anyhow here is the last blog post where readers recorded their best history books read since Jan 2020. An excellent list:

    1. Thanks for coming by dear Hels. I understand when you say that. This time my experience is slightly different. I am reading to shut my mind of the various thoughts that seem to haunt me. The books offer an escapism. I'm glad for that. Thanks for the list. I'm going there right away.
      Stay safe and take care.



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