We entered quarantine here in Santa Clarita, CA on March 15. I expected to be able to get a lot of reading done. I had all this time, right? Pre-quarantine, I complained that I didn’t have enough time to read. Between my full-time work, my spouse and two kids, my church band and small group commitments, and caring for aging parents, I was busy. There was barely space in my day for me to read. But suddenly, our library closed its doors to the public. We were told to work one hundred percent remotely for six weeks. “Couch, here I come,” I thought. “My TBR awaits!”
Do you know how many books I read during that time? Four. While that might sound like a lot to some folks, it is not for me. Reading is my superpower. It is my first love. When I discovered the pleasures of reading in first grade, I was hooked. Books and stories helped me escape, and I fell passionately in love with characters and series. That love continued well into my adulthood. I became a librarian, and have effectively dedicated my life to promoting literacy and literature. So reading four books in six weeks is nothing but a blatant disregard of my calling. To make matters worse, none of the books I read were children’s books! I have so many kids’ lit books on my list, and I just couldn’t make myself read any of them.
So my excuse of insufficient reading time lost its power, and I started to wonder, why am I not prioritizing the reading of books and novels? And it’s not only books and novels that I’m having trouble with, it’s also movies, and even tv shows that have plot. Why am I not able to engage in story?
It might be anxiety brought on by the pandemic. Anxiety can sap our ability to concentrate during normal circumstances, and clearly, a world-wide health crisis unfolding and all of the economic and physical uncertainty it has wrought have us all on edge.
It might be working from home. It’s hard to turn off the job now that we can do it remotely. I can check my emails whenever I want, tweak a video edit, or get sucked into social media because so much of our work is on those networks now. Not only is it hard for me to resist social media as an extrovert who MISSES HER PEOPLE, but also because my mind needs a break sometimes. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, even Tik-Tok are my perfect “brain candy.” My son will find me mindlessly scrolling, and say, “did you get stuck, Mom?”
While distraction and anxiety are definitely contributors to my lack of connection to story, I am starting to think that something else has happened. I think I might be losing my ability to be enchanted.
Enchantment, which is what I call that precious flow that I have experienced so many times over my reading life, where I lose all sense of time and space and physical need, requires me to let go of my life, my worries, my reality. It requires me to concentrate for more than two seconds. It requires that I forget myself. It requires that I suspend disbelief, and enter into worlds very different from my own, worlds that might defy reason, or challenge my perspective.
Maybe it’s because I am a grown up that I have a hard time letting go. Maybe it’s because I have so much on my shoulders. But I also think it has something to do with habit and discipline. It has to do with the intentional putting aside of my own life to enter into another world. It is so much easier to be distracted than enchanted. If I don’t continually practice and position myself to enter into a good story, I settle for the distraction, which has none of enchantment’s satisfaction, but still uses all of my limited free time.
To make our reading more difficult, as children’s librarians, we are called to read books created specifically for young people. When life is complicated, it’s so hard to sink into the simplicity or magic of a child’s story. As adults, we deal with things that children should never have to face, although unfortunately, they do more often than any of us like. We certainly need our own stories. But we also need to make sure that we are reading the books that we peddle! How else can we effectively guide and advise the children and families who look to us as experts in the genre?
So I am calling myself to return to my first love, the story. Stories have carried me through some of my toughest times in life by allowing me an escape. It’s time I go back to them. I need them for my own soul’s well-being, but also for the care and tending of all the little souls that need me to have great readers’ advisory skills.
So, will you join me, fellow children’s librarians? Join me as I put down my phone! Join me in the habit of picking up a dedicated e-reader or physical book instead. I have such a hard time reading on an app in my phone or tablet or computer because the distractions therein usually prove stronger than my resolve to read. Join me as I redevelop the discipline of reading stories, as I enter into beautiful words, challenging ideas, and magical worlds.
Distraction is easy. Reading stories can be hard work sometimes, but it is life giving and worthwhile. We will go forth and read!
Today’s guest blogger is Liza Purdy. Liza is a children’s librarian at the Old Town Newhall branch of the Santa Clarita Public Library.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.