Reading in a Pandemic
“Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences in my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.”
Roxane Gay, "Bad Feminist"
In late December last year, I compiled a list of books I intended to read in 2020. As with most “to do” lists and resolutions, I began with good intentions. And then the pandemic hit and the books on my list no longer seemed adequate. My reading tastes shifted along with everything else in both my work and home life.
I’ve always been a reader, but I began reading voraciously, as if I was running out of time.
Barely was a book closed before another opened. My hold list in the library catalog grew and grew and GREW. I created booklists on scraps of paper and in the margins of the arts and style sections of the newspaper. I listened faithfully to The Book Review Podcast from the New York Times.
And I read. All the time. More than 50 books in all, across genres and styles, dating from the 19th century to the present.
There were many standouts. Long a fan of coming of age novels, I read five that will stick with me. Each of these authors is known for other, more famous books. These are worth a look for everyone who wants to revisit the trials of adolescence and early adulthood.
- "Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell
- "Rule of the Bone" by Russell Banks
- "Red at the Bone" by Jacqueline Woodson
- "Topeka School" by Ben Lerner
- "My Losing Season" by Pat Conroy
I dipped into classics:
- “Slaughterhouse Five“ by Kurt Vonnegut
- “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville
- “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl
- “Hiroshima” by John Hersey
And on the lighter side because I needed a dose of hopefulness, “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle.
Race was very much on the national mind and steered me toward:
- “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin
- “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson
- “Sula” by Toni Morrison
- “The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom
- “Your House Will Pay” by Steph Cha
The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women being granted the right to vote drew me to women’s issues more broadly. I read:
- “No Visible Bruises” by Rachel Louise Snyder
- “In the Dream House” by Carmen M. Machado
- “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
For the pure pleasure of superior plotting and writing, I’ll mention “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips.
And finally, the wonderful Arlington READS authors whose books we featured in our 2020 series, “We the People.” In a year of reinvention of Library programs and services, we Zoomed the author talks, part of our new now.
- Roxanne Gay, author of ”Bad Feminist”
- Alexis Coe, author of ”You Never Forget Your First"
- Brooke Gladstone, author of “The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in our Time”
- Elaine Weiss, author of “The Woman’s Hour: the Great Fight to Win the Vote”
- David Brooks, author of “The Second Mountain: the Quest for a Moral Life”
- Colson Whitehead, author of “The Nickel Boys”
And on a personal note, I discovered the joy (and ease) of audiobooks, especially when read by the author. What a delightful way to get lost in a story.
Reading was an anchor, a sure bet during months of uncertainty. With hours blending into days, into weeks and then months, I occasionally lost track of the day of the week, but never lost my place in a book. I had something to look forward to and there were always more books.
My stacks of books have not disappeared, and I am still adding holds in the Library catalog. At this moment, I am reading “Surviving Autocracy,“ by Russian-American journalist, translator and activist Masha Gessen, who I am excited to announce will be our first Arlington READS author in the new year.
In closing, thank you for your support of Arlington Public Library. It is a joy and an honor to serve this wonderful community.
Stay safe, stay hopeful and keep reading.