I Miss the Library: and Other Thoughts on Quarantine Reading Life

As an introvert, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of having a certain rhetoric tossed my way thanks to COVID-19: this pandemic must not affect me at all, I never leave the house! This pandemic must be a breeze for me, since I typically like to stay home and read! I must be getting SO much reading done right now because of physical distancing measures! Ah, yes! Introverts and bookworms have it SO easy right now.

Here’s the thing, chicken wing. I totally love staying home, but usually it’s on my own terms and not, you know, government mandated. Destroy the idea that people like introverts and bookworms are not affected by having to stay inside indefinitely. Destroy the idea that we all suddenly have “so much free time” on our hands to catch up on our reading and should feel guilty if we aren’t making progress on our TBR piles. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it a bit hard to concentrate on just about every book I’ve read during this pandemic because, you know, the world is in a state of perpetual ongoing peril. And, I cannot stress this enough, I really, really miss the library.

Sure, I miss the privilege of being able to hop in the car and drive over to the library to pick out some titles whenever the endless piles of unread books I own aren’t suiting my fancy at the moment. First world problems. But what I really miss about the library is having a quiet place to go when the world gets too loud. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world has pretty much been screaming nonstop since March.

I’ve used my local library as a quiet place to escape to since I was a teenager. You know that scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Holly Golightly asks Paul Varjak if he ever gets the “mean reds,” where you’re suddenly afraid but you don’t know what you’re afraid of? And she says the only way to make herself feel better is to hop in a cab and go straight to Tiffany’s, since it calms her down right away and because nothing bad could ever happen to you there? That’s exactly how I feel about the library.

During times of high anxiety, I’ve had to convince myself that nothing bad could ever happen to me at the library. Often times it’s just a place to go when I need to get out of the house, out of my head, and into a book. Half of the time I bring a book from home and just sit and read, because reading is usually all I feel like doing when I have lots of free time and sometimes all I need is a change of scenery—and what better scenery than being around endless other books? So now, when I’ve been supposedly gifted with all this free time and there has been so much noise in the world, the one place that would really make me feel better right now is closed. (Getting a haircut would also be really therapeutic for me right now but, conveniently, that’s closed, too.)

I wish I could say I’ve found the best solution to this problem and that I’ve come here to highly recommend it, but I don’t. I don’t have any solutions to the library being closed because my government still doesn’t have solutions for it, either. I’m personally tired of hearing it, but we’re living in a state of unprecedented global uncertainty. None of us, our parents, or our grandparents have ever lived through something quite like this, so the fact that we’re all just doing our best to keep our heads attached to our bodies each day needs to be enough. We’ve gone through almost two months of this quarantine madness, so if you’re running out of ways to keep it together, that’s fine. As writer Ashley C. Ford recently wrote on Twitter, “You are watching people go through withdrawal from the emotional addiction to the myth of certainty.” My motto always is, as long as your coping mechanisms are not damaging or unhealthy for you or anyone around you, cling to whatever gets you through the day at this point. Let yourself feel what you might not want to feel. You have to let yourself feel it to move past it.

When it comes to reading, read whatever you’re able to get through without finding yourself distracted or filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. If that means listening to audiobooks because you just can’t focus on reading a page, so be it! Need to order some new books online because you just aren’t in the mood for something you bought a year ago and haven’t gotten to? Do it! When we started quarantine, without even thinking about it, I immediately made it my goal to read three books that have been sitting unread in my bedroom for years. My own emotional addiction to the myth of certainty had me briefly convinced that this was, in fact, unencumbered free time to finally get to those books I haven’t gotten to. Full disclosure? I got through one of those books, and by “got through” I meant read the first few chapters before putting it down because I did not register a single word I had just read. It’s hard on a good day to force yourself through something just because it’s been two years and you should just read it already, but when the world is a constant raging dumpster fire, forget about it.

I’ve also had to remind myself that it’s okay to put down a book that you’re just not in the mood for, since it’s hard enough to make yourself in the mood for just about anything right now. Over the last few years, I’ve become a big fan of niche self-help books and encouraging essay collections about bettering yourself because hello, we all need a little bit of that in our lives. I did manage to get through a few books like that during quarantine but it just made me feel more depressed, since it’s a bit hard to apply an author’s advice on how to better yourself when 95% of outdoor activities are not allowed right now.

Then there are other books where I’ve just had to convince myself that it’s okay to put them down, because it’s just not happening right now. I tend to be incredibly self-disciplined when it comes to certain books, because I know that if I put it down now I won’t ever pick it back up again. So I rewrite that narrative in my head by replacing it with, “It’s fine if we can’t get through this one book at this time. Everything has been a bit difficult to get through right now, so if we put this book back on the pile and choose something else, it doesn’t mean we won’t ever go back to it. It’s fine.”

I’m still going to miss the library until the minute it reopens. (My bank account definitely misses it, too.) I’m still going to have trouble getting through certain books, because it’s been two months and I’ve already read everything on my TBR pile that was sparking immediate joy. It’s not going to stop being hard until there is some sort of sign that it will start getting easier. It’s fine if you don’t get through a single book from that pile of books you’ve been “meaning to get to.” If anything, it might help you weed out some books you were never going to read in the first place—because if you had really wanted to read them, believe me, you would have read them by now. Find something that satisfies your knowledge-craving, story-loving bookworm heart in that moment, and don’t worry too much about what you’ll read next. Uncertainty is hard, but try to remember that after the storm comes a rainbow.