Reading in Covid times

Young woman reading books
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The title of this article is inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic romantic novel Love In The Time Of Cholera (1985). Marquez set his novel against the raging cholera epidemic in early 20th century Latin America. In fact, epidemics and pandemics have ravaged the world at regular intervals — from plague to smallpox, and influenza to yellow fever. Since the past few months, Covid-19 has become the new normal in our lives. A pandemic that has spared no corner of the globe, it has changed and affected our existence in many ways, big and small. For young people bursting with life and energy, the confinement to home, sometimes solitary, faced with an uncertain future, has not been a very pleasant experience. There have been cases of abuse, addiction, depression, trauma, suicide, etc.

Then, how do we survive in these tough times? How do we ensure a good quality life along with safety? I’m sure you must have got a lot of suggestions. Let me dwell on just one concrete suggestion — reading for specific reasons, with some specific purpose in mind. I do not say that you should read all or most of the books in this list, below. It would be more than enough if you choose just one area that appeals to you most and read with passion just one book in that area, and try to live fully what you have read.

Cover of The Power of Patience by M. J. Ryan

1. Patience: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Sometimes waiting it out is the best way to handle a period of crisis. There is no healer and no problem-solver like time. Once you imbibe a spirit of patience, things will slowly start to fall into place. No pandemic or epidemic has lasted forever, and humans have eventually found ways to overcome all of them. There are three books I would suggest in order to develop patience. The first one is The Power of Patience (2018) by M. J. Ryan. Ryan gives some amazing insights into how one can slow down the rush of everyday life and really enjoy every moment by learning to be a bit more patient. The second book is Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living (2012) by Allan Lokos. The third book is Perfecting Patience: Buddhist Techniques to Overcome Anger (2018) by the Dalai Lama. The latter two books focus on Buddhist teachings aimed at teaching humans to overcome anger and annoyance.

Cover of Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

2. Care, Safety, Responsibility: While some of us debate over the use of masks, while many of us crib about not being able to go out, let us remember that prevention is always better than cure. We owe it to ourselves and to those around us. The carelessness of one individual might ruin a hundred lives. We are fortunate to have health workers and security personnel to go out and wage the battle for us. Let us cooperate with them.

One remarkable book that powerfully conveys the need and the ways by which we can overcome the obstacles of life and take responsibility and ownership for our actions and shortcomings, our decisions and our destiny, is, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (2017) by Brene Brown.

Cover of 101 Things To Do Before You Die by Richard Horne

3. Positive Use of Time: Time is precious and the wise know how to use it well. In fact, the lockdown and work or study from home has freed up a lot of personal and family time. Use it for things we always wanted to do — catch up with family and friends virtually, read great books, watch amazing movies, learn music and dance, learn a new skill or craft or hobby, decorate your home, cook favourite dishes, take up teaching a subject or skill online… If you really think of it, the list is endless.

Create your own bucket list of things that you always wanted to do. 101 Things to Do before You Die (2008) by Richard Horne might give you some great ideas. Some of these ideas may be outlandish or absurd, but the aim here is not to follow the book literally, but to get the spirit of the book and create your own ‘to do’ list.

4. Return to Nature: This is a great time to re-establish the vital connect with nature. Take up gardening; look at the birds, flowers and trees; keep and care for a pet; meditate; breathe the early morning air; eat healthy; exercise vigorously; keep your mind and body engaged. Slowly, you will realise that these are the real luxuries of life! It would be worth enjoying the feast that literary classics have to offer us. Read the poems of Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley! Two essays you should not miss out are — Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell and Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Forest by Vandana Shiva. But if you love fiction, then you will really enjoy Ruskin Bond’s The Big Book of Animal Stories (2015) and Jack London’s classic novel The Call of The Wild (1903) with a dog named Buck as its hero.

Cover of Build Your Dreams by Alexis Irvin and Chip Hiden

5. Creative and Positive Thinking: You may be depressed because of a break in your studies, a pay cut or a loss of job. Of course, it is hard! But it is not the end of the world. Think positive, be creative. Think of new avenues of employment, of self-employment, of new ideas. Remember, you will not lose until you lose hope.

A wonderful book I would strongly recommend is Build Your Dreams: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love (2013) by Alexis Irvin and Chip Hiden. Based on a real-life career workshop that inspired thousands of American college students, this book is a great guide for youngsters who are passionate about making a living out of their passions and interests.

6. Giving a Helping Hand: This is the time to re-awaken our long lost humane instincts. If you can, in whatever way you can, help those who are in a worse situation than you are — emotionally, materially, mentally, physically. This can range from monetary help to a phone call to help with essential supplies to online guidance to a positive text message. When you help your neighbour’s boat to reach the shore, you will find that you too would have reached the shore in no time. Reaching out to others is the best way to get over feelings of depression and self-pity. Often, our own struggles seem small when we look at the enormous challenges faced by others.

Perhaps there can be few things better than reading about one of the greatest givers of all times. Try to get hold of Navin Chawla’s Mother Teresa (2003).

7. Pray: A tree with strong roots can withstand even fierce storms. Spirituality, connecting with the divine, is a powerful way of establishing strong roots that can guide us safely through the ups and downs of life. Whichever religion you may belong to, you can always connect with the positive energy in the universe, with the strong belief that life and joy are much more powerful than death and disease. Let us hope, pray and believe that we shall come out of the Corona crisis safer, happier and wiser, sooner than later!

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Dr Rositta Joseph
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Dr Rositta Joseph

Dr Rositta Joseph is Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK), Former Visiting Fellow, University of Edinburgh (UK), Assistant Professor of English, GITAM Deemed University, Vizag.