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The Pandemic Tanked My Reading Habits

Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail,, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

By now, I hope everyone has seen the hilarious viral video of comedian Robyn Schall as she recounts her 2020 goals. If you haven’t yet, you’re in for a treat. And even if you have, it’s super cathartic and always worth a rewatch (be warned though, it takes a dark turn there at the end):

Honestly, Robyn, same. Also, sorry about your grandmother.

I think we can all identify with the absurdity of setting goals for 2020. If you set any for yourself this year, they probably didn’t turn out at all as you expected. And if you’re like me, you probably had a lot of goals for yourself reading-wise that didn’t pan out. Which makes sense. This situation has thrown everyone’s reading habits into a tailspin.

After reading a personal record of 101 books in 2019, my only goal this year was to not have any goals. I wanted to free myself from feeling like I had to reach a certain number and get back to reading at my own pace.

To be clear, I love setting reading goals—they pushed me further in my reading than I ever thought possible! But while I certainly felt accomplished, I also missed out on things like reading the news or listening to podcasts or even having a phone conversation on my lunch break. I pretty much always had a book open, or an audiobook in my ears.

But this year, I’m glad I had other plans for myself. Because the pandemic definitely tanked all my reading habits.

I live in New York City, so when the pandemic hit us early and hit us hard, I thought, “Well, at least I’ll have a lot more time to read!” But the opposite happened. In fact, what I didn’t expect was to be sent into a book spiral within the first weeks of our “on pause” order.

For some reason, I became obsessed with finding the “perfect” pandemic novel to help me cope with the situation. It had to be the perfect blend of quality storytelling and escapism. I agonized for weeks, eventually choosing an 800-page Stephen King thriller that I thought I would breeze through with all the extra time I had.

Wrong again. I thought that without my commute to and from work I would have more time to read, but I realized quickly that my subway time was my primary reading time. When I was home more, I had more things calling for my attention.

Weekends and evenings stacked up with Zoom calls to friends and family, checking on neighbors, and there were all sorts of free events available online. I spent a lot more time with my wife, and I was able to get to some projects around the home I’d been meaning to get to. All of this meant that my reading, most times, played second fiddle.

Most times, though, I felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water, trying not to panic. When I did read, it happened in fits and I had trouble concentrating. When I could focus, it was great, but I was surprised to learn just how much my comfort from reading came from my routine. Once my routine was blown up, all my reading habits did too.

Overall, I’m glad that I went into this year with exceptionally low reading expectations. Turns out it was the best call. If I’m honest, though, just like Robyn, I was still disappointed with the outcome. I expected the freedom from goal-setting would spur me on to read more, not less.

But if there’s anything that 2020 has taught me, it’s to be kinder to myself. This year was not an easy one by any stretch of the imagination. It’s okay to let some things fall by the wayside. Even reading.

After all, I’m the only one really keeping track.