Okay people, listen up. This isn’t a drill—we’re in a crisis—a pandemic—and we need to be able to get through this with our mental health intact. We’re being told to Shelter-In to avoid getting or spreading Covid-19, a deadly serious virus. We need diversion.
What do we do to entertain ourselves? I like binge-watching as much as anyone else but TV and movies can only be watched for so many hours and then a break is needed. So—what else can we do?
Here’s a novel idea. How about reading a good book? The Victorians called reading “an acquired taste for literature” and thank God I acquired it very early. I don’t remember who taught me to read, probably my parents, but that was a gift that has kept on giving and grown exponentially with time. Oh sure, I love my computer, my iPad, my laptop, love being on my phone—but truth be told, I love curling up and reading books for hours on end so much more. It’s a great de-stressor.
There were always books around when I was growing up and I read everything. My mother inherited Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, a series of hardcover anthology collections published by the monthly family magazine Reader’s Digest, from my grandmother. The collections contained five or six current abridged best-selling novels and non-fiction books. When she brought them home and I opened the box, I thought I’d found a treasure. They were magical.
Needless to say I devoured every book in the collections. Marjorie Morningstar, The Kapillan of Malta, The Nun’s Story, Giant, The Caine Mutiny, Tales of the South Pacific and so many more entertained and enlightened me.
My favorite books were those whose detailed stories and characters allowed me to live inside another dimension—something we desperately need right now. It was exhilarating to feel as if I was somewhere else with interesting people who were so unlike the ones who populated my world.
And it wasn’t just stories that influenced me; poetry was at one point an all-consuming passion. T.S. Eliot used to talk about a dead poets’ society. This society was Eliot’s way of expressing that each author changed poetic tradition and interpretation and made it new. The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner stayed with me for years as did Kubla Khan and The Highwayman. All ‘dead’ poets, all with strong influences on new authors. For me, becoming a writer was an early ambition because of the wonderful books I read.
Many of the books we read influence us in subtle ways that enrich our lives. Some influence us by opening a window in our minds that was closed before. In a nutshell, books make us think.
Writers are readers and it is easy to understand how certain books made their impressions on modern authors. Humorist Dave Barry has admitted that he loved the writings of another famous humorist, Mark Twain. Barry has won the Mark Twain prize for humor.
Anne Rice has said that the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, a book she re-reads every so often, had a great deal to do with her becoming a writer. Isabel Allende credits reading works by such diverse authors as Germaine Greer and Gabriel García Márquez in influencing the writing of her first novel The House of the Spirits.
In a world where reading has been reduced at times to scanning a work on a computer or handheld device, I hope the joy of reading can be a solace for us at this uncertain time. Books can have a great influence on everyone who seeks to go beyond their own lives and homes. Reading is a gift, a precious one for all of us. It’s time we renewed our acquaintance with books and take the magic that they offer as balm for our minds and spirits.
Hang in there—we’re going to get through this.
© copyright 2020 Kristen Houghton all rights reserved
Kristen Houghton’s new book, Lilith Angel, was published in April, 2019 and is already in the top “fiction top five” by Nielson Ratings. She is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. The first four books in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation, are now available in a special boxset. She is also the author of the Horror Writers of America award-winning Quick-Read, Welcome to Hell.