Reading Joy in the Time of Coronavirus

Many of us are struggling to find the motivation to read during this pandemic. Here are some ways to spark your desire—and your ability to concentrate—for reading.

Picture of sad grown woman. Unopened book in background.

Surrounded by siblings and limited to twice a month walks to the public library, ten-year-old me once daydreamed of uninterrupted time to read whatever I wished. That girl doesn’t understand why I’m not curled up right now reading a tower of books. It’s frustrating, but along with the distress, uncertainty, and fear of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown, I’m not finding much joy in reading right now. News articles, tweets, and emails—I'm reading those, but a book barely holds my attention.

As someone who has always found comfort and escape in books—benefits I could use right now—being unable to read has me feeling unmoored. Occasionally, I need to get out of my head and books have always helped. But not now.

It seems I’m not alone. Sharing this disinterest with other educators online, many confess they aren’t reading much either. While some people have capitalized on isolation by challenging themselves to read more than ever, others don’t have the emotional or intellectual energy to read for escape. For some teachers, the demands of crisis schooling while also managing their own family and household responsibilities consume their time. Others report that they’re too distracted and worried to read. There’s science behind what we feel. Flooded with stress, our bodies and mental focus have turned toward the external factors threatening us—leaving little energy for ourselves, and pleasure reading.

This is natural. Our reading lives ebb and flow—we have time periods of high reading volume and interest, and times when we read much less. Sustaining a reading habit long-term requires adjustment and recommitment many times.

Folks struggling to read during the quarantine share these suggestions for sparking reading motivation:

Revisit favorites. One editor friend is rereading his old “Star Trek” paperbacks. Another friend says re-reading books she loves gives her a sense of familiarity and control. “I find comfort in the tried-and-true,” she said. “My brain cannot take in one more new thing new right now.”

Choose “lighter” fare. So much of what we read about the pandemic is frightening and depressing. Reading a happily-ever-after ending or adventurous travelogue can give us a sense of hope or soothe our wanderlust during confinement.

Pick something short. If that 700-page tome on your nightstand seems daunting, kick-start your reading momentum with shorter texts like graphic novels, poetry, and short story anthologies, or periodicals.

Try an audiobook. If you feel the urge to keep busy, and cannot sit still for long periods to read, try listening to an audiobook while you clean out that closet or enjoy a safe walk. Sign teens up for Audiobook Sync (available at: ), a free summer program, which offers two free audiobooks a week beginning April 30th.

Connect with other readers. Without face-to-face reading advisory conversations, student conferences, or conversations with colleagues, many librarians and teachers miss talking with other readers. Join a Twitter chat. Schedule a call with friends to talk about books. Look for ways to maintain the social aspects of reading that feed you. I joined a Zoom book club with other librarians and teachers. Reading for our meetings motivates me and the discussion enhances my appreciation for the books we read.

Plan for future reading. So you aren’t reading today. Can you visualize yourself reading in the future? What do you miss about reading? What resources for finding and evaluating books have you wanted to use, but didn’t have time? Is there a debut author or unexplored format you want to read? Watch publishers’ book release videos. Read reviews. Subscribe to book review blogs. Make a list of books you’d like to read when you regain your reading appetite.

Accept that it is OK not to read. Daniel Pennac’s 1992 The Rights of the Reader gave us permission not to read. A strong reading identity can endure setbacks and periods of low reading interest. Give yourself some grace. We can find our way back to reading. It will always be there for us.

It’s a strange and stressful time. There will be an after. What can we learn from our reading experiences and our students’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic? What can this teach us about reading and supporting young readers going forward?

Like adult readers, some students may be reading more than ever, while others have lost their reading interest and motivation. Work with families to identify obstacles preventing students from reading at home. Above all, increase students’ text access in any way possible. Many families lost their book access when school and public libraries closed or lack the devices or internet service required to access online reading materials. Students may need to work out a quiet space to read when their entire family is quarantined. Older students may have additional responsibilities while their caregivers continue working essential jobs. If several students in the same home share a device, they may not have the ability to access texts for home reading and all of their online coursework, even when this reading material is provided.

Discuss with colleagues the reading load expected of students across the day. How much reading is required in all courses? Streamline the volume of reading assignments, so that students have some time and energy left to read self-selected texts. Provide students with choices in how they access, respond to, and extend their reading—including the ability to opt out occasionally. Use activities and platforms that offer opportunities to share books and reading with their peers. Celebrate students’ reading growth and help them plan for future reading. Accept that some students may not read much right now, but encourage them to see themselves as readers who can find joy from reading again.

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Elizabeth Benefiel

This helps a lot, being a high school freshman getting ready to go into a summer of reading because I will be in AP English as a Sophmore, I am struggling to find the time or energy I used to have for reading. So this is helping me find the passion I used to have to read.

Posted : May 14, 2020 07:26

First Last

So good to know I'm not alone - thank you!

Posted : Apr 14, 2020 02:28

Alice Mikos

Spot on! Thank you.

Posted : Apr 13, 2020 08:49



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