New Reading Rituals

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As I keep adjusting to the confines of the stay-at-home lifestyle, I’ve been thinking about how much ritual has helped me create an illusion of normalcy when so much of my old routine is gone. By the way, don’t worry that this is another reminder to “create a schedule!” during a time when almost all normalcy is gone. I understand the sentiment that a schedule can help us to avoid staying in our pajamas until 4pm. Totally random example there. Don’t think too much about it. Moving on!

As practically every media outlet recommends creating a schedule, I have indulged more and more in doing what I most felt like at the time I most felt like doing it. As I return to a more consistent work schedule, rituals have helped me balance my own calendar anarchy with the need for structure. For me, rituals consist of a series of repeated actions that bring a sense of comfort. The rituals I perform on a regular basis tend to happen around the same time of day or day of the week but since it’s something that is pleasurable rather than a necessity, I’m free from rigid scheduling or guilt if it just doesn’t happen.

Tuning back in to abandoned rituals means I’ve reinstated my Sunday night viewings of PBS British drama imports, something I’ve been doing on and off since college. I look forward to my Sunday nights all week and, when the time comes, I find that I’m surprisingly ‘present,’ as mindfulness experts might say. Anxious thought spirals are paused, at least for the run time of Call the Midwife.

I’ve also found myself creating new reading rituals as books help remove me from the pandemic mindset. Practicing even just one of my new reading rituals gives more shape to the blank-calendar schedule of so many of my days.

My new rituals have addressed two problems: reading clutter and emotional calm. I define reading clutter as a sector of your library that has outgrown the storage space allotted or has been sitting on the shelf for too long. Like many readers, I tend to amass way more reading material than I can possibly consume. Seeing all that stuff sitting on my shelves and piling up on my e-reader inspired me to attack some of it during the stay-at-home order.

Currently, periodicals are the hardest thing for me to keep under control because  . . . they just keep coming! Apparently even my strong sense of denial is no match for the panic I feel when new issues begin piling up. To that end, my new breakfast companion is a magazine. My backlog (which I must confess still contained Halloween issues at the beginning of the stay-at-home order, the shame) has dwindled to a manageable stack of under ten! At breakfast, the short article length is a nice way to wake up my brain and think about non-pandemic topics. In addition, even if I linger over my coffee and reading, hitting the last page is a good reminder to get up and do something else.

It seems like talking about how much or how little we’re sleeping is one of the few topics of conversation we have left now that we’re mostly doing nothing. Bedtime reading is another great way to diminish reading clutter and influence how you feel before sleep. I’ve started reading a comic book/graphic novel issue before bed each night. Graphic novels were another sector of my library that I hadn’t explored in a while. Like magazines, the brief issue length means there’s a built-in stopping point that prevents me from reading for the hours I should actually be sleeping. Additionally, turning to a beautifully drawn comic with minimal text seems to really help my brain shift into a lower gear. Surprisingly, I’ve been sleeping much better since I started doing this, waking up much less (or not at all) during the night.

I framed my quarantine days by waking up with magazines and going to bed with comics. Go wild redesigning your reading life. It’s one thing over which you have absolute control.

We Could All Use a Story Time Right About Now

In my pre-quarantine life, one of my jobs was working in the children’s section of a bookstore. I usually did story time at least once a week for half an hour. I would read three or four books interspersed with some songs to help hold the kids’ attention. The pleasure of looking at gorgeous illustrations, the delight of reading a complete story in one sitting, is wholly unique. Trying to remember that kid perspective of curiosity and trying to figure the world out is a very valuable one for my adult self to experience. At story time, everything gets put aside (except for maybe some of your favorite snacks). At story time, you focus on being with the group and enjoying a few books.

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Vogue.com published an article last week called “I Can’t Read a Book Right Now—And I Am Not Alone” by Sophie Vershlow (https://www.vogue.com/article/why-cant-i-read-books-right-now). Personally, reading is one of the few things keeping me sane right now, but I can relate to only being able to engage with certain kinds of books. I’ve been making a bit of an event of picking a new book (why not?), selecting four or five titles and reading the first few pages to see what best captures my attention. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most serious ‘literary’ fiction fell to the bottom of the pile each time. Mystery, horror, YA—these genres helped immerse me in a world apart from the COVID-19 quarantine.

So just like you don’t have to be a bastion of productivity right now, you also don’t have to tackle that list of ‘Great Books’ you’ve been carrying around for years if you don’t feel like it. Maybe instead you plan your own story time. Maybe instead you read a comic book (“excuse me, we call them graphic novels now”). Maybe instead you reread that picture book you loved as a kid.

I think there’s a reason so many people are reading picture books on social media feeds currently  (other than helping frantic parents and caregivers). Reading stories out loud is fun. Reading picture books is fun. Sharing stories is fun. Whatever your story time looks like right now, don’t apologize. Just please enjoy it (and make sure you have snacks).

Next week I’ll recommend some of my favorite children’s books for little and big kids alike. Let me know if you’ve got any favorites that have been keeping you company during quarantine.