READING IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
by Donna Johns
I learned to read when I was three. Nothing to brag about, really. Just means that the little parts of my brain that allow me to make sense of the lines and squiggles on the page developed early. Some children are taller than normal; some have advanced motor skills. I read.
And from that time, reading has been an important part of my daily life. Nobody who knew me was surprised when I became a librarian. It was a perfect match. As a reader, I am an omnivore. I forgive the badly written books and the ones who lose their way halfway through. No genre is taboo. I like them all.
So imagine my surprise when, shortly after the birth of my first child, I discovered that I couldn’t read. Oh, I still knew how. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t concentrate on a page. I read and reread the same sentence and couldn’t process it. It felt like an amputation.
At first, I blamed it on hormonal imbalance, but it continued, month after month, long after I felt completely normal. Then I figured out what was wrong. My internal monologue had come to visit and take over my every thought. It went something like this.
“Is he getting enough to eat? Is that little rash a problem? Is he sleeping too much or not enough? Has he hit all the benchmarks? Is it time to start solid food? If I start solid food, will he get fat? Will he ever stop upchucking on my shoulder when I burp him? Does he have a disease because he upchucks a lot?” On and on and on.
No wonder I couldn’t read.
I solved my problem by subscribing to People Magazine. Each day, my goal was to read at least one short article. Written on a fifth-grade level, the reading wasn’t challenging, but my zest for celebrity gossip restarted my reading engine. Within weeks, I moved on to Stephen King short stories. Then on to actual books. With my second and third children, I repeated the process and got back on track much faster.
And now, many years later, I find that I cannot read again. The third volume of the Wolf Hall trilogy sits idle on my Kindle. My internal monologue this time is different but is just as distracting. It goes something like this.
“Did I have it? I was sick in February and had some of the symptoms. Should I get an antibody test? Oh wait, Dr. Fauci said immunity could not be assumed. Is Signe OK? Her husband is working security at hotels. Will he bring it home to her? Will I ever see any of my children and grandchildren in three dimensions again? I wonder whether drive-ins will make a come-back? Should I watch the governor’s press conference? That guy needs a voice coach. He’s smart enough, but his voice puts me to sleep. Come to think of it, why is my sleep cycle so weird…two hours one day and ten the next? When will this end? Will it end?”
It’s time to subscribe to People Magazine again. And order that new collection of short stories by Stephen King.
DONNA is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.