Has the pandemic changed summer reading for good? I hope

So when did summer reading start to deteriorate?

Was it when my children were little, during those busy years when I wanted to get lost in a novel to find a free hour and lack of concentration? Was that when I started curating “10 Hottest Reads” and “Must-Have Beach Books” lists for my old job as a magazine editor, then I wondered which ones to recommend to my friends? Was this the year I tweeted about a different book every morning from Memorial Day to Labor Day, spending more energy on clever descriptions and pithy hash tags than on what there is? had between the covers?

I always looked forward to the season’s bumper book crop, like a baseball fan eagerly awaits opening day. But it had become stressful; I had taken a simple pleasure and had done sports.

Last year I collected readings in warm weather, as I always do. Then I swept the porch, grabbed some waterproof cushions from the basement, and located my bifocal sunglasses. But, in the first quarter of the pandemic, I struggled to drag myself into a paragraph, let alone a novel; I was just sitting there, watching the dark school across the street and listening to the empty commuter trains heading for New York. One day, I disinfected the mailbox. By late spring I had been going through a few books looking exhausted as a hiker, my eyes riveted on the trail instead of the view.

I knew I was not alone. When I spoke with other readers, we exchanged skimming and scrolling stories, recalling those awful and deeply distracted weeks after 9/11. I still remember the book that brought me home 20 years ago: “Look at Me,” by Jennifer Egan (no report, unfortunately) – a novel about a woman returning to Manhattan after a car crash leaving her with 80 titanium screws on his face.

One evening last July, while my daughters were baking chocolate chip cookies, I sat on the loveseat on our screened-in back porch and began to read Lacy Crawford’s memoir, “Notes on a Silencing.” . It is a heartbreaking exploration of sexual assault; it’s not an escape reading, but I inhaled it one session anyway. When I looked up, the neighborhood was dark. The baking sheets had gone through the longest cycle in the dishwasher (for cooks who don’t rinse) and the cookies were all but gone. I slept well for the first time in weeks, my mind full of sorrow, but also of courage and peace.

The next night I read another book. And another the next night. Eventually, I got into the habit of bringing my reading to the pool where my son works as a lifeguard. Sticking my toes in the AstroTurf lawn, I got lost in a novel until the snack bar closed and the sun set behind the cemetery across the street. I felt like a teenager again: distracted and transported, entertained and delighted. When I came to get some air, it took a second for me to remember why I was wearing a mask.


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