When lockdown began, many of us imagined reading those tomes that we’d been putting off for decades, such as Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, or all twelve volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. But as the days turned into weeks, I noticed my bibliotherapy clients were restless, easily distracted, and unable to sit still. I found myself spending more time trying to help them find ways of reading more, than recommending them actual books.
This is a topic that applies to normal life too – many is the busy working adult who has little time to read, as they are constantly dashing from one appointment to the next, feverishly checking their phone, grabbing a coffee as they run, tripping over commuters ( oh remember those crazy days?) . Who would have thought that now we are in such a static state of life, stuck at home behind closed doors with limited exercise allowed, that we would still find it so difficult to read?
The issue is that people are very much distracted by the news – by the siren call of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; and perhaps by the people that they live with, if they do. My answer is to create a reading nook in your house.
Find a place that will always be attractive to curl up in with a good book. This could be a hanging chair, a bay window with a seat behind some curtains, a tree-house in the garden, or even a place half way up the stairs where you can create a cosy spot. If you can, have a little shelf near your reading nook where you can keep your favourite books, and leave room for a cup of coffee (or a cocktail!). Place cushions in an inviting manner, perhaps throw down a cosy blanket, and leave your book there for when you have the time to read. Then, when you know you will have 20 minutes or half an hour to spare, turn off your wifi, abandon your phone, and go to your reading nook. Placing yourself there becomes a signal both to you, and to anyone else in your household, that you don’t want to be disturbed. You could even add a Do Not Disturb sign to your nook. If you have children, a partner, or people you look after, encourage them to create their own reading nooks too – that way, you can all disappear to your separate reading spaces for a period during the day, and have a much needed, mind-nourishing reading break.
Another great way to seize more reading time is to read aloud with a partner, friend or with your whole family. Get cosy on the sofa, find a book that you think you will all enjoy, and try reading a short story, or a novel that you might have read as a child and which will have appeal through the generations –then pass the book between each member of the group, reading a few pages at a time. If it’s just two of you, either together in person, or over a video platform, try a short story. It’s a great way to share reading, and to have something new to talk about too. These are some of the ways that I have been suggesting that people get more out of their reading during quarantine.
For more suggestions both for specific reads, and for ways of reading more, see Ella’s book The Art of Mindful Reading: Embracing the Wisdom of Words and The Novel Cure: an A-Z of Literary Remedies co-written with Susan Elderkin.
Ella Berthoud is a bibliotherapist at the School of Life. All through the month of May, she is running free online bibliotherapy sessions on Facebook, hosted by Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, each Wednesday evening at 9.00pm.