The importance of reading in the age of COVID.

2020 has been a weird year. I suppose that’s an understatement for a lot of people, yet I’m equally sure that for some people in the world (where I guess this blog and my thoughts – such as they are – have the potential to reach) this year has been much like many others (perhaps every other).

My thoughts turn to the classic Chris Rock stand-up routine, where he quips, “You think anyone in Rwanda’s got a fucking lactose intolerance.” And as to how COVID has touched distant lands and lives, I can only strain to imagine.

For myself, in my sheltered little life in Dublin, Ireland I’ve spent most of the year under lockdown (of varying degrees of restriction), but as a bookworm, my life really hasn’t changed that much; I’ve just been sitting quietly in my chair having a good auld read.

One of the things I’ve always loved about literature, is its unparalleled ability to transport you to other times and places. Places that could perhaps never exist in the ‘real’ world, and times past or to come; without you ever having to leave a quiet, safe space.

As I grow older, becoming a more mature and experienced reader, I find myself craving more and more complex books. The Jest’s, Rainbow’s, Fountainhead’s and Brother’s – all books ultimately concerned with the question ‘why?’ – but still I always find time to stay in touch with my love of Fantasy and Science Fiction literature, purely because those particular genres transport your mind further than any other.

I re-read Dune during the first period of (Irish/Dublin) lockdown, and re-visited the first five books of The Malazan Book of the Fallen in the times since; purely because they allow me to travel far, far away. Travel at a time when dragons, demons and giant-worms are less scary than what’s going on outside my front door.

It’s escapism; it’s a relief, it’s the reminding, that even though you may be on the darkest of journeys – like Frodo and Sam walking endlessly on into the shadow of Orodruin –  you are always moving through the darkness and towards the light; perhaps not for you, but with hope for those that you love.

A powerful message. Regardless of who you are and where you hail from, and it’s a message that I understand because of my love of reading.

I understand that the passion for reading novels remains, and will forevermore be, in a state of popular decline, because the world has changed too far and fast for people to be prepared – perhaps even able – to invest the time and effort required to read a really good book.

That’s not a criticism of any person – I often consider my own disinterest in watching box-sets a bit of failing because we seem to be living through of a golden age with regards that particularly medium – more just a statement recognising the changing of the times.

If there’s one positive thing that living through the COVID experience has gifted me, it’s a reminder of just how powerful books/reading can be in allowing a person to step outside themself; to step beyond walls and worries, and really experience living a life.

I suppose for most, separated from family and friends, and the tactile sensations (the hugs and kisses) which underline the best parts life, this has been a tough year to live through, and I in my own quiet way feel that way too.

I hope that, like me, some people have found a way to keep travelling, and to keep feeling, in the pages of a really good book.

There won’t be much that’s good to come out of COVID, but if one or two people decide to take a chance and pick up a book… well, it’s only something small… but it’s something good… and even the longest journey can be conquered by the smallest steps.  

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