Bonding with Books – Reading during pandemic

Big changes come in small instalments. Starting from a lockdown of 21 days, a lot has changed in our lives in the last one year. On one hand, one could hear the waves of the sea and the chirping of the birds but on the other, a pandemic was wreaking havoc all over the world. Bibliophiles turned to what they knew could provide them a relief from this – reading.

“During the lockdown, we worked, took up online classes, binge watched a series or just took naps. But after a point, everything became tiresome. Books gave my eyes a much-needed break from the screen. They helped add words to my vocabulary, character arcs to analyse and examine subtexts in them,” says Ranjitha G, a communications professional, adding that she found reading almost therapeutic.

My pandemic reads were markedly different from my usual reads; they were not heavy at all. I kept it decidedly light, breezy and funny

The pandemic also changed our reading patterns. In the beginning of 2020, Harini Sriram, a journalist got herself a Kindle which gave her access to several free books. “My pandemic reads were markedly different from my usual reads; they were not heavy at all. I kept it decidedly light, breezy and funny because anxiety was killing me and I couldn’t have gone through grim and dark reads. I even put off reading 1984 by George Orwell because it seemed like we were already in the dystopian novel,” she says. “I read a lot of poetry by Arundhati Subramanian and Mary Oliver. They seemed to give me hope and helped me stop and take in the beauty in the everyday, mundane life. Travel anthologies helped me live vicariously through the experiences of the authors.”

During the months of lockdown, many readers took up their unfinished and untouched books again “I turned to my unread pile and managed to read a dozen of them. From Dorothy Whipple, Ambai and Chimamanda Adichie to Coomi Kapoor, Sappho and Helen Simonson, I read a lot of women’s works. Some of the fictitious worlds were great to escape into and forget about the chaos around me. I even began using audio books,” says Ranjitha.

At a time when we take ourselves too seriously, a gentle dose of Wodehouse surely helps. Jeeves and Bertie Wooster make for great lockdown company

The sale of books of Jane Austen rose by 20 per cent in the UK between June 15 and November 7 last year, compared to the same period in 2019. In fact, many people were surprised that the old British humour of Wodehouse still found resonance among the youngsters in India. “At a time when we take ourselves too seriously, a gentle dose of Wodehouse surely helps. Jeeves and Bertie Wooster make for great lockdown company,” says Anand Raghavendran, an IT professional, who read a book every month last year. “I also managed to finish Mathilukal by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer and Ashadh ka ek din by Mohan Rakesh.”

Harini feels that reading on a device was largely responsible in getting her to finish over 50 books in the last 15 months. “I think it’s because it’s convenient. Also, it tells you how long you will take to finish the book, based on your reading speed. Some of my favourites from the last year include Circe by Madeline Miller, Bombay Balchao by Jane Borges, Poonachi and Amma by Perumal Murugan, the ridiculously funny Diary Of A Provincial Lady by EM Delafield, Bear Town and Us Against You by Fredrick Backman and People Like Us, a heart-breaking historical romance by Louise Fein.”

Once some of the restrictions were lifted in June last year, Gomathi G, a homemaker, made optimum use of her neighbourhood lending library. Along with groceries, she also stocked up some good books before the lockdown and devoted much of her spare time to reading managing to finish 20 books. “An excess of TV series and videos on mobile phones caused a kind of screen fatigue which made me pick books. I read Kannadasan’s 10-part Arthamulla Hindu Madham, several thrillers by Indira Sounda Rajan, and Rajesh Kumar, some thought provoking works of Sujata and good old romantic novels by Kalaivani Chokkalingam and Ramanichandran. I also found solace in Deivathin Kural,” she says.

 Kindle and online bookstores have definitely helped people connect to their books, but the neighbourhood bookstores also bounced back to business. Lovers of PG Wodehouse swear by the adage ‘A Wodehouse a day keeps the doctor away.’ One does want to believe in it now. 

This story was published in The Times of India, Chennai on April 23, 2021

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