Read a book? Are you kidding me?
But this is what I do, what I love to do more than anything. It’s what I need especially now, to navigate my heightened anxiety, my bouts with depression, my flood of requests to meet the needs of everyone else. It’s also what the literary community so desperately needs as book launches sparkle and fizz quickly, like a parade marching down an empty street. I can’t stand on the sidelines watching their hard work fall on deaf ears.
So I must. But how? Here’s what I’ve figured out.
●Make sure you have some books in the house or on your device. Of course, to read books, you need books. If that hilarious novel your friend recommended came out since stay-at-home orders were in place, look for the title online. In addition to the obvious source, you can buy from many indie stores directly or through bookshop.org, a recently launched website that shares proceeds with them; borrow from your local library or through OverDrive’s Libby app; or check out Project Gutenberg, where you can find copyright-free e-books. You can also read many e-titles on the New York Public Library’s SimplyE. If you can’t get the books, don’t let that stress you out. Let that excite you — something to look forward to! (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
●Read before bed every night. Make it a habit. Yes, I know: All you want to do is drink wine, check Instagram and pass out. That’s okay, too! But give yourself the gift of your own bedtime story. Remind yourself that there’s a reason you suffer through rereading “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” 50 times a week to your kids. Why? Because reading before bed is important, calming and helpful — even just a couple pages. Your heart might grow two sizes too big. And don’t feel bad if you have to reread the same three pages the next night because you can’t remember a word. It still counts.
●Keep a book in the kitchen. And by the front door. Also in your kids’ bathroom. If books are only on my nightstand, I forget about them. But if I scatter them around every few feet, it reminds me that reading is an option whenever I miraculously find myself with even two minutes to myself. Note: the kids’ bath time can be a great opportunity to read if you dump enough toys in the tub. Toys include measuring cups and anything else you can find.
●Join a virtual book club. I launched one myself when the quarantine began. Now, when I read those books, I imagine myself reading alongside women all over the world, pouring over the same sentences and dog-earring the same pages. It feels like a collective effort. When we all come together to discuss the book, it validates the time I spent on it and makes me feel emotionally connected to others, something that I crave now while holed up at home.
●Listen to audiobooks while doing the laundry. It’s unbelievable how much and how quickly laundry accumulates. When my 5-year-old insists on staying in his jammies all day, I’m secretly thrilled; one less outfit to wash, dry, fold and put away. I play an audiobook on speakerphone while I tackle the towels. Of course, the kids interrupt me constantly, but at least I can escape for a few minutes into someone else’s non-pandemic-related thoughts. (I’d suggest listening to audiobooks while taking a walk since that sounds like a good idea, but that’s one goal too many for me.) You can find them on libro.fm, your local library and of course, Audible.
●Read while everyone else Zooms. If your kids are old enough to handle school Zooms on their own, plan for 30 minutes to sit and read while they’re occupied. Don’t try this with a preschooler. I did and realized my son was taking selfies in Photo Booth on my laptop the entire time. That was quite a series of photos to uncover. My friend’s son mooned his entire class while she was working in the next room, so at least my guy didn’t do that. (I don’t think.)
●Don’t feel guilty doing it. Reading should not feel like a guilty pleasure, especially now. Sitting and reading isn’t the same as sitting around eating bonbons. It’s the easiest self-care tool in the toolbox. (Not that I’ve ever opened a toolbox.) It expands your mind, promotes empathy, relaxes you and gets you thinking. How is that lazy? Also know that you’re supporting authors who have worked for years to get their words out into the world. The least you can do is read them.
●When “Paw Patrol” is “on a roll,” read. Sit on the couch, snuggle up to the kids, and let them watch whatever they want on TV while you read beside them. It’s cozy, bonding, and they’ll probably be quiet.
●Hide in your car. This is where I go to cry when I just can’t stand it anymore. I don’t even drive anywhere; I just sit there. Next time, I’m bringing a book. At least I’ll get some peace and quiet until the kids coerce my husband to squeal about my location.
●Let books be your passport out of quarantine. You might not be able to go to the Starbucks around the corner, but you can sip wine on a terrace in Tuscany at sunset (like in “What Is Missing,” by Michael Frank) if you open the right book. True, we can’t travel right now, but we can still learn, feel and connect — just by turning the pages.
Zibby Owens is host of the podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.
ESSAY: FINDING TIME AND SPACE TO READ BOOKS