On Not Reading a Book During a Pandemic, by David Merkowitz
Right now, in my house, we have two people watching videos for school and another person trying to teach online. This is the experience for so many people during this pandemic. Rather than being overwhelmed by quiet, we are stuck in an ever-louder cacophony of sound that makes it nearly impossible to think—much less to read—in any kind serious manner. Later the kindergartner will need to get outside and run some of his energy out and the 2nd grader will need to be managed so that they do not turn into a screen zombie. This is all okay.
Many in the humanities sector have turned to books to escape their way out of this mess. Books take concentration and time. It seems like we should all have time since we are stuck in our homes, but having lots of different people with different senses of time and different amounts of work has the effect of dissolving time into a mess of chaos or devolving into a flat circle. This is all okay.
So, what can the humanities offer in a time of chaos when you cannot retreat into a book?
You might try picking up a book of poetry. The pieces are shorter and can offer an intellectual aperitif or a profound moment. I have found W.H. Auden to be a good place to retreat to for a few moments of respite.
If you can take a walk away from the chaos, take a listen to a good podcast. In Our Time from the BBC will give you a deeper dive into a subject than you could ever imagine—in 50 minutes (or less if you, like me, listen to all your podcasts at 1.25x faster).
Read the newspaper. Pick up a magazine the next time you are sprinting through the grocery store. Start a subscription to your local newspaper and a magazine that you have enjoyed by reading their content online. These forms of reading invite short bursts of attention and will expand your horizons in ways you did not expect.
And take advantage of Ohio Humanities’ “Humanities at Home” online programming. Blogs, podcasts, and Pathways magazine are all here for you to dip into to escape the chaos of the timelessness of this moment.
In the end, what you need to do to help your mind make it through these days is okay.