Our Reading Lives

Why the Pandemic Put Me Into a Book Spiral

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, Tor.com, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at www.mattgrantwriter.com or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

The Friday before my NYC office shut down for the pandemic, I took stock of everything I had on me that I might possibly need to work from home. At the time, no one knew what any of this would look like. I imagined a weeks-long quarantine that meant not being able to leave my tiny one-bedroom apartment until an NYPD officer knocked on my door saying it was safe to come out.

So naturally, I grabbed everything from the office that I thought could get me through. This included: my laptop, an extra charger, and any and all snacks I had lying around in my desk drawers. I advised the people I worked with to do the same. “We may not be back in the office on Monday,” I said.

A similar thing happened at home, as I tried to imagine everything I would need to get me through a long bout of isolation. My wife and I went shopping for household essentials, like paper towels and soap. But we also looked at games and other forms of entertainment.

One of my biggest considerations was, of course, books. On the one hand, I tried to look at the impending stay-at-home orders as an opportunity to read through everything I had on my to-read shelf. I usually don’t think too hard about what I’m reading next, I just grab the next thing on my shelf that looks semi-interesting and I’m away.

But for some reason, this time around, the decision felt weighty. While others were finding hope in pandemic literature, I wanted the opposite. I wanted something that I could escape into, something that would take my mind off of everything happening outside my window.

But most of the books I had were massive nonfiction history books or biographies. I just wasn’t that interested in diving into any of them, especially in my fragile mental state.

Weirdly, for several days, I felt paralyzed over what to choose. I felt like Goldilocks in the house of the three bears. Everything was too long, too short, or not interesting enough. Nothing felt just right. I was trapped.


To make matters worse, now would have been the best time to load up books onto my Kindle. With public libraries shut down but offering digital books on loan, it seemed like a no-brainer that I would use my little reading device to its full advantage. I even had several more to-be-read books on it, and surely some of them met my suddenly stringent requirements.

Except there was another problem. After a week of working from home, it was clear that my eyes were not going to take another few hours of reading on a digital device, however much e-paper is supposedly better for you. It’s still a screen, and the last thing I wanted to do is spend my precious reading time on another one.

So I did the only thing that made sense: I bought a new book. I rarely buy books, especially physical copies, but desperate times, you know?

Why did this one simple act suddenly lift me out of my book spiral? Who can say? The wild thing was, I didn’t even read it next—I read something from my to-read shelf first! But I think the fact of having even one more option suddenly put me at ease, and let me know that everything would be okay. It gave me permission to choose a book and know that if it didn’t work out, I had somewhere else I could turn if I needed it.

Really, what it was, with so many other things out of control, I suddenly had agency over something. I had chosen something I wanted to read, and I had a book that I felt would meet my needs.

And right now, that feeling is more important than ever.