Our Reading Lives

How Does Your Quarantine Read Compare to Your Desert Island Read?

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Tiffani Willis

Staff Writer

Tiffani C. Willis spends as much as time as she is able to traveling the universe by book and sometimes by, plane, train, boat, or car. When she’s not off on an adventure in a faraway land or trying to solve a mystery like a detective, Tiffani uses her powers as an academic librarian to help students survive school as they learn how to do research and write research papers. She spends her spare time rambling, raving, and ranting about books on her blog Passport Books, camping out in bookstores, and obsessively watching HGTV, usually with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine nearby. Twitter: @PassportBooks

You’ve played this game before. Imagine you are stranded on a desert island. What three books would you want to have with you? A classic, however you choose to define that? A sexy romance? Maybe a childhood favorite?

My answer to the desert island question was always a mix of practicality and whimsy. First, I would choose something massive and complicated—massive so that it would occupy me for a long time, because who knows how long that island stay will last, and complicated so that something new might still be discovered even after multiple rereads. For this slot I would pick Moby Dick or The Brothers Karamazov, both of which are very long and reveal a little more with each reread. Alternatively, I might pick something more modern like The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. Bonus, it is three books in one and clocks in at over 1,000 pages. That would certainly keep me busy.

Book number two would be a mystery for the simple reason that I love mysteries. The more complicated the better as puzzles are another way to pass the time. P.D. James is one of my favorite mystery writers, but since I have read everything by her I’d probably go with Walter Mosley or Henning Mankell.

Book number three would be something hopeful and optimistic because to balance out the complicated doorstopper and the murder mystery. A happily-ever-after romance would fit the bill nicely, perhaps something by Alisha Rai, Sierra Simone, or Talia Hibbert.  Most importantly, all three books would take my mind off being stranded on an island. No books about diseases and pandemics on my desert island!

More than asking what books a person would pick, the desert island question asks a person to imagine how they would feel if they found themselves in an unusual place without the usual comforts or routines and then to imagine what books would help them cope with the situation. The wild thing is many of us find ourselves in precisely that situation. We may not be on a literal island and we have access to more than three books (thank goodness for digital library collections) but we are effectively stranded in our homes with reduced access to the outside world.

I thought being home all day, even while working, would translate into reading more. That did not happen. In the early weeks of my state’s stay-at-home order, I barely got any reading done at all. Partly it was the difficulty of finding time to read. One thing this pandemic has made me acutely aware of is how much outside cues help structure my day. In the good old days—that is, before, when I actually went somewhere to work—much of my reading happened on the bus to and from work or during my lunch break. Now my commute is from my bedroom to the kitchen table. It took a couple weeks to figure out when to read.

Of course, the other reason I wasn’t reading was because of the general stress everyone is experiencing. Reading is usually a calming activity, but it was hard to focus enough to allow books to calm be down. Instead I reorganized my bookshelves and closets.

Lumberjanes, Fence, and Fables were what got me back to reading.  Comics were not on my desert island reading list but they turned out to be exactly what I needed. Short and full pictures, they were easier to focus on than a lengthy novel.

Once I got back to reading, my quarantine reading has turned out to be close to my imagined desert island reading. While I have yet to pick up Moby Dick or The Brothers Karamazov, I did read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of American’s Great Migration. Though not complicated in the way Moby Dick or The Brothers Karamazov are, it is certainly massive and detailed. The one downside is that it is a constant reminder that traveling is off limits for the time being. As predicted, mysteries have been a reading go-to. Hallmark Channel movies replaced my romance reading.

So how does your imagined desert island reading compare to what you are actually reading while in quarantine? Are you reading at all? Whatever you choose to read, I hope it brings you comfort.