Confession time: I haven't read a single book in my To Be Read pile since the pandemic started.
I know. Bear with me. At first, there was a totally reasonable excuse. I was in the midst of my final term of graduate school and there was no time. When the pandemic first kicked off, it was consuming my whole attention as we are a multi-generational household and we had to figure out our "new normal" in order to keep everyone safe. Everything went online. Shopping became a scary undertaking. Exercise regiments were established. Sanitizing protocols were put in place. It was A LOT.
But then the MA program ended and I was jobless and home bound like many other unfortunate Americans.
Sure, I started freelance editing. I was job searching. I was formatting my books for print. My hometown of Portland, Oregon was thrust into the spotlight due to our nightly protests. We were occupied by federal agents. A Proud Boy was shot and killed downtown. My entire state of Oregon was on fire. We acquired a new pet. My daughter started online kindergarten. The election drama has been INTENSE this year and fractured my personal relationships. I started a new job. The holidays are coming up. Financial stress is real. The list goes on...
For a lot of the country, things leveled out or went back to normal or never changed much to begin with. For my particular nook in the Pacific Northwest, we've been bombarded with hit after hit and strangely enough, for me, pleasure reading has been the most impacted by this near continuous "state of emergency." Constant vigilance is EXHAUSTING.
There were and still are a lot of things, BUT I also have A LOT of books. And in the past few months since our lovely Little Free Library opened, the pile has only grown bigger.
I have resorted to purchasing books in multiple for the library, especially the ones that appeal to me, because I haven't been able to fulfill my mental promise of "reading this book quickly and then adding it to the library." Nope. The books intended to hit the library shelves AFTER I read them are now are stacking up and collecting dust alongside all the book presents and impulse splurges from the last year.
I literally haven't even been able to finish a pleasure read I started over winter break back in 2019. My track record for books read in 2020 (that weren't school, work, or craft related) is a big fat zero. I'm not sure what the deal is. I seem to have some kind of mental block when it comes to reading books that has persisted throughout the entire pandemic and resulted in stacks of unread books, even ones that desperately appeal to me, just moldering on my nightstand and dresser and end table and book case.
It doesn't help that I've been working so diligently to FINALLY wrap up the Metal Heart trilogy and get all of those books available in paperback and ebook formats (*fingers crossed* for audio format one day). Whenever I want to selfishly pop open a book for pleasure reading, some weird voice in the back of my head takes over and says: Not today! Finish YOUR book instead.
It made sense at the beginning of the pandemic that all my excess resources were consumed with "solving this problem." There wasn't extra brain space to dive into an alternate reality. I concede that point. Many others have commented on just this phenomena. There's even science to back me up.
But we're eight months in now. There are constant adjustments and shifts, but nothing quite like the massive upheaval in Spring 2020. And I've also been letting myself slip into other realms. My free time is filled with Netflix and Pokemon Go and stupid puzzle/narrative games on my phone. Those alternate realities are OK, apparently.
I'm feeling itchy and antsy and mentally stalled and incredibly GUILTY. I've started multiple books, thinking: This is it! This is the one! This is going to break the cycle! And then read about a chapter in and can't seem to focus any further than that. Books that I was stoked to read. Books that I NEED to read for craft purposes or just to be a better human in general.
It's becoming problematic that someone with an MA in BOOK PUBLISHING, who WRITES BOOKS, and regularly stocks a COMMUNITY LIBRARY full of books is struggling to read them. I can't even blame doomscrolling as I've worked over the last month or so to purge that habit.
I'm buoyed up by my continual interest in the idea of reading. I believe that there will be a time in the future, possibly even the near future, where I can redistribute my headspace and pleasure read a book again. In fact, the one that's been sitting on my end table and calling my name for the last few days is Undead Girl Gang.
What's holding me back from tearing into it right now? That depressive dip, that weird sense of loss that hits when I get about a chapter in and realize that I can't go any further. I am now afraid to start a book because I fear that I won't be able to finish it. Anxiety sometimes be like that.
I will mark it a victory if, in the next few weeks, I can crack open this fun YA novel, read it, and churn out a review. No pressure on this book, but some pressure. I need a win here.
Until then, happy reading, my friends -- if you are able. If you're not able to read, you're not alone, and we're in this together. We'll get back there one day. Your TBR pile is not a negative statement about you as a person. It's more of a condemnation of the times. It's been a rough year and however you've chosen to survive it, and whatever thing you had to let go of to be here today... it's OK.
The books aren't going anywhere.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.