The Great Escape
Since the virus lockdown has turned my social calendar into an efficient collector of dust, I have found ways to stay extremely busy. I have learned how to poach the perfect egg. (And nearly 10 ways NOT to.) I have stood shoulder to shoulder with Queen Elizabeth’s royal court advisors. I have faced down the police while I stood up for equality. I have picked cotton with slaves. I have sipped drinks with gangsters. I have finally learned the difference between a leopard and a jaguar. And let me not forget about the traveling I have done! From parts of Canada to the isolated hill towns in Idaho to the bucolic plantations along the Mississippi, all the way to the country villages in England. I found friendship in Estonia and lovely companions in the Easter Islands, too. I’ve seen the world.
But it feels like I have because I have read about this and so much more in my books. These strange times continue for my family as we continue to hunker down, staying away from the virus and now the poor air quality. Schooling is in the house. So is dining. And working. And all of our living, in fact. But that doesn’t have to stop us from having adventures, seeing the world, learning new things and experiencing life. It truly is all found in the pages of a book.
I have always been an avid reader. I can remember going to the library with my friend Holly on the first day of summer vacation when I was a 3rd grader. There was a library reading challenge and no limit to the number of books you were allowed to check out. We checked out as many paperbacks as our arms could carry. The librarian looked very skeptical that I was actually going to read all of them. I did. And several armloads more, that summer and every summer since. I have no scientific evidence that reading makes people happier, but there is zero scientific evidence that says it doesn’t. And what better way to deal with this more isolated time than to dive into a book and allow yourself to be taken away? Here are a few ideas for finding your next escape in a book:
Read together. Story time does not have to be reserved for only our smallest family members or those still learning to read. We all enjoy reading together. My middle school son and I usually end up reading the same book because he shares what he has read with me and then we discuss. My daughter Rachel prefers read-alouds but will participate as much in the reading as the listening, which is so nice to hear. And as a family we are tremendous fans of stories with adventure and humor, classics and new tales in equal measure. Nothing ends a family day together like cuddling up together and sharing a good book.
Connect it to something real. On any given day, there is something happening in real life that warrants more information. There is so much world out there and our knowledge is so limited, considering how much we simply DON’T know because we haven’t encountered it. These past few months alone, the Space X launch led us to read October Sky, about young boys who dreamed of space flight. I barreled through every book I could find about the Underground Railroad after a vibrant dinner table discussion about the roots of slavery. I highly recommend the fictional tale by Colson Whitehead, by the way. We should crack open Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to review what they were saying about our climate in the years before there was such a thing as an environmentalist. There is no shortage to what to read about that can be connected to real life, making it educational and enlightening all at once.
Read outside of your comfort zone. Most of my reading is historical fiction. It represents that ultimate escape from anything real for me. Reading outside of this genre takes more effort, and usually more time. I can plow through the loves lost by Anne Boelyn twice as fast as attempting to read about the highly scientific exploration of Mars. But when I do challenge myself in that way, I am all the better for it and I never regret the change. You really never know what you are going to find when you read something different, new, unusual, unexpected, unknown or otherwise just not part of your original reading list.
Use your resources. Books are everywhere. If you are like me, you need not look any further than your own home to find books that are just waiting to be enjoyed. But if you fall short of having your own collection, go to a used book sale or thrift store and collect a year’s worth of reading for less than $10. Visit the library remotely through apps. Trade with friends or neighbors. If you want to read, there is literally nothing stopping you from doing just that.
Curate lists from friends. Just ask people around you “What have you enjoyed reading lately?” Most people have books that are standouts and they would highly recommend. I have authors I follow like a groupie, so if you asked me, I’d recommend anything by John Irving, Anne Tyler, Ta’ Nehisi Coates, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Oprah is particularly good at selecting show stoppers, though I believe there might be a chicken versus egg dilemma there because who knows if Oprah picks them because they are great or they are great because Oprah has picked them. I’m just sayin’...
Schedule it. Put it on your calendar and carve out time in your day to just read a little. Even for 15 minutes. It is your time. And you have the time. If you schedule it you are more likely to follow through. Most people I speak to complain about just not having time to read. So make the time. On busy days, I read with my lunch. Sometimes I can be caught reading while cooking dinner. My book is with me always so when there is a break in the action, I can take advantage of it. I always start and end my day with a few pages or reading. It is part of my schedule.
Read to educate yourself. I think any reading is educational. It doesn’t have to be a textbook in order to provide you with an elevated understanding or new perspective. But when you seek out learning from a book, it can be even more rewarding. What have you always wanted to learn more about it? Start there and find a book that deals with the topic on any level you can handle. When we travel, I leave the reading of the travel guides to my husband while I run straight for the books that are set in the location of our destination, or centered around topics that matter for that area of the world. He can tell us all about how to find the restaurant of his choice, and I can offer information about why we are eating the food we are eating based on the land, the people and the customs. Visiting Poland? I read about the Holocaust. The islands? Why coconut oil is so valuable. London? A history of the royal family. Every place, every people, everything out there is waiting to be explored.
Audio books totally count. True confession: I really don’t participate in audio books. I prefer the act of holding a book in my hand and reading it. I think I learn more and remember more. I have tried audio books, for long drives. On several occasions, I ended up missing my exit because I was so engrossed in the story, so I understand how they can be captivating. Audio books are an awesome escape. Listen to them while doing chores or running errands or just closing your eyes to relax. Books narrated by the author are always an added bonus. How cool to be the person to write a great book and then be able to share it with the world?
Book club it. We don’t need to be together to enjoy reading together. Books clubs are fantastic ways to stay connected, to learn about each other and to have fun doing it. Pick a book you want to read, ask others to join you and set a date to meet again. It doesn’t have to be hung up in social status, age, gender or other artificial limits we tend to place on memberships. Start with the book and allow the people to follow.
Finding it hard to handle life these days? I advocate burying your nose in a book. Find your next great escape by reading. It might just help you get through daily life feeling better than ever.