I’ve posted that I’ve been trying to follow the loosely-based plan that Ray Bradbury suggested in one of his interviews. “Read an essay, a poem, and a short story every day for 1000 days and see where you are.” My modified version has me reading essays – at least one a day, and then I change over to novels – typically I try to focus on an author I haven’t read yet. I use any one of the “greatest books” lists to find a title and I just work my way down the list. But the variety between the essays and new authors is what I crave, and what I’m after. As I try to find my own voice, I want to find and experience as many voices as I can myself.
Everything was going fine until…
This has worked really well. I’ve settled on the essay as one of my favorite forms. But then, toward the end of April 2020, I started to be unable to focus on my reading. With the pandemic came fear. Fear of losing my job, firstly, because I’ve only been here since November, and I don’t have much of a financial cushion built up. But even with me actively ignoring the news, it was impossible to not be affected by the pandemic. My rural store ran different hours immediately. Actually, side note, HEB (big grocery store chain in Texas) has been one of the best companies to deal with all throughout the craziness. All my routines were unsettled. My boss started having emergency meetings, so I started having daily meetings with my team. The results of which were that I had a lot more daily stress than I was used to.
I happened to be reading The Grapes of Wrath when the pandemic started. And Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Not ideal reading for a pandemic when you’re spending time worried about your own future because of catastrophic events. The Grapes of Wrath is initially set in Oklahoma as the Great Depression hit. The company I work for is in Oklahoma. Just too many similarities. I was re-reading Tess because it’s one of my favorite books. I turned to my wife one night and said, “I can’t keep going like this – I need to read something fun.” So with that, I tried to focus on what would be fun to read. I grabbed the first Harry Potter book. I blew through it in a few days. I spent all of May reading the rest of them. Sure, they start out fun, and grow darker with each book, but my dreams had shifted from my own personal fears to Harry Potter dreams. That was good, in my opinion. But reading had become fun for me again – I wasn’t pushing myself to be better every day. For the first time in many years, I didn’t read anything in May that was something to move me forward. I was focused on calming my mind by distractions.
I can do both – fun and educational
So I started looking for “intersections” of great books on my reading lists and ones that are humorous and light-hearted. I found some recommendations, and later in June I started chasing a few of those. Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint was the first one – and it fit all my categories. I had never read Roth, and I know his son (not well, but we’re in the same industry) and some of Roth’s books are on my “to read” lists. It was fantastic, and I’ll add Roth to future lists. But I also went back in my own reading history and thought about books that had made me happy. I re-read the David Eddings Belgariad books. I remember how much I loved the characters in the Belgariad series, nothing had changed. It was like seeing an old friend I’d lost touch with. I read The Princess Bride, one of my all-time favorite movies. The book is a great read, and I will most likely keep that one near when I need something to cheer me up. I can’t stress enough how great this experience has been on my reading. I finally read The Hobbit. Again, on my list, but my previous experience with Tolkien had left me with a horrible taste and possibly smell in my mouth. The Hobbit cured me of these.
I rediscovered Wodehouse. First through the Jeeves novels, then to The Blandings books with a dabbling of Psmith thrown in. Fantastic. Wodehouse is another author that I know I can read and always be smiling. Plus, now that I’ve become more well-read, I’ve started to pick up on his obscure literature references that characters will throw out. Isn’t that what literature is supposed to do? I also read one of the Rumpole books. I’ve been a fan of the series for decades. My wife and I bought and watched the entire series several years back. But the book, Rumpole and the Penge Bundgalow Murders was great. A fun and easy read.
I have to turn from the darkness
It’s been odd. I had light reading when this thing began. I was reading The Dresden Files books. But those, I found, are darker than I needed in my life at the moment. Plus, growing up in Chicago, they were very familiar to me, except for the whole wizard bits. But Dresden is a dark character with dark humor. I needed slapstick to get me on my way.
At my wife’s prodding I started the Percy Jackson books as well. I’m on book four, and I can say that they also have helped. Light, and being “young adult” in nature – there’s very little darkness in them. And the Greek Mythology references have me interested in Mythology all over again. All in all I’ve read 26 books since the beginning of May – and only 4 have been deep and not funny. The past week I’ve even started to re-dabble in essays once or twice. I think it’s safe to go back in the water again.
I’m calm, but changed
Things have calmed down at work for the moment, but until we know this thing has passed, and the dust has settled, I don’t see myself going back to the hard-core reading. I’ve got three mythology books lined up for August. My Mythology experience is pretty much limited to The Iliad and The Odyssey. I just finished the first Herodotus Histories volume (not an easy read to stick with) and from there I think I’m going to go deep down a Greek Mythology hole for the month.
I hope this helps someone. I’m not the type of person who gets affected by external news – but I have stopped most news sources in my life because I found them invading my thoughts in a way I didn’t like. But I had to find distractions to help me cope, and I can’t be the only one out there who has struggled with this. I’m proud of myself for not giving up and going to the boob tube (or the YouTube). I’ve kept my dedication to reading, even accelerated it, even though the content has not been as “literate” as I would have liked. I do like the outcome and re-focusing it’s brought.
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