For almost all of my life, I have enjoyed reading. One of my favorite quotes comes from Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird. When Scout is discouraged from reading with her father, Atticus, because her teacher says she is reading wrong, she laments, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing.” I didn’t start exploring books until I was in the third grade because I finally felt that my life was calm enough to fall into the pages of a good book. This is when reading became like breathing for me, a necessity to live in my sometimes chaotic world.
I remember falling in love with words when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Hawk, rewarded my class daily with poems from Shel Silverstein’s The Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. This love for words continued in third grade when my teacher, Mrs. Saremi, often read to us from the classic works of literature for my generation: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I loved the way that books allowed me to escape the world that I lived in. Sure my life was pretty good, but there were times when I just wanted to leave reality so that I could follow along in an adventure with someone like Lucy Pevensie or Caddie Woodlawn. I loved books because they gave me breath for each day.
This love for reading has always given me a safe place to fall into when things around me seem chaotic. Reading helped me to survive my depression in high school, it allowed me to make sense of the world after 9/11, and it helped me to heal from thyroid surgery. You would think that this love of reading would help me in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, but it hasn’t. If anything, my enjoyment of reading has been halted because of my inability to allow myself to escape. I am afraid that if I escape into another world then I won’t want to return to reality. I will want to stay there in Middle-earth or in Narnia.
I am entering week nine of the stay at home order in my state. I have read several books: a wonderful biography of Flannery O’Connor, an encouragement by Dr. Dan Boone, and I’ve almost caught up on my annual reading plan of the Bible. However, it has only been in the last week that I have been able to read a novel. I have been waiting to read The Toll by Neal Shusterman since it was released several months ago, but I had to wait until my library finally had a copy to download. The first few days after I downloaded the book, I only read a few pages at a time, trying to savor every word, but afraid that if I read too much I would get lost in the world of Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch. It took me almost a week to allow myself to get sucked into the story, to lose time in the interactions between characters, and to forget what was going on in the “real world.”
I have discovered that this unprecedented time is doing its work on our minds and on our spirits. I am a bookworm who is afraid to read because I don’t want to get lost. Books are a comfort that are a luxury, especially in the midst of chaos and turmoil. However, I am learning that I have to give myself permission again to escape this world temporarily so that I can relax my mind and forget all of the images and information that social media and the news is throwing at me. I think this is the only way that I may be able to breathe when the world returns to “normal.”