Reading as a Refuge

During this pandemic, with limited abilities to get out and about, reading has become my refuge.  The sudden and fear-inducing situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in March led me to think of other difficult times in our nation’s history, specifically World War II.  I wrote about this in my Coping Mechanisms article – see my post on April 30, 2020.  And that theme of World War II has continued to give me perspective, with the book, “The Tattooist of Auschwitz.”  In addition, this concept of reading to find resilience and fortitude, as well as wanting to read another book by Kristin Hannah, led me to expand to a survival story, “The Great Alone.”  Next, over the past month, I have been affected, along with our whole world, by the horrible brutality of the killing of George Floyd.  While there is no salve to calm any grieving heart, let alone our nation’s distraught pulse, skipping beats as we witness the video clips of the incident, violent protests, and looting, we can make changes one by one to heal.  My choice has been to speak more openly with my children, family, and friends about the need for equality and care for black lives, and to choose books that open my exposure to black lives, specifically an awesome novel, by African-American author, Brit Bennett, called, “The Mothers.”

First, the book, “The Tatttooist of Auschwitz,” bridged my time in quarantine as I reeled from the constant fear-inducing news of the pandemic.  I chose this book because I had been fearful of reading it before the pandemic.  Once the depths of the quarantine were surrounding us, I felt like battling against that fear by reading this book to find hope.  I did find hope, but maybe not as much as I had longed for.  This novel by its’ very nature and setting is difficult to read.  I was actually grateful that I had it on audiobook because I think reading this in hard copy would have been even harder emotionally.  The cruelty of the Nazis and the horrific choices that the characters have to face is beyond imagination.  The love that grew between the two main characters amidst such a dark time was a beautiful glimmer of hope.  Given our state of lockdown during that timeframe of early May 2020, I found it encouraging to think about their survival and the perseverance of their love.  It certainly gave perspective to our situation.  I found freedom in my ability to run outside, bike with my children, talk with friends and family over Zoom or Facetime, watch uplifting movies with my husband and children, and overall be grateful for our health and happiness. 

Next, in mid-May 2020, I read Kristin Hannah’s, “The Great Alone.”  This book is a magical, twisting story of survival in Alaska and beyond.  While I found that it took an inordinate amount of time to get going –almost half way through the book until I really cared about the characters and the outcome – in the end, it was a beautiful story of fortitude and perseverance, hope and love.  I can’t say that during that time I felt any connection to Alaska other than its’ isolation.  We were trapped inside mostly at that time, other than exercising outside, and the perspective this story gave was that Alaska at that time in the 1970s was as rough and isolated as I could imagine our nation’s frontier to be.  The coldness of the winters and constant worry for preparing for them year-round struck me as a condition foreign to me.  I could compare our situation of needing to prepare more for food availability, household supplies, and medicine, but their situation was even more dire.  That alone made, “The Great Alone,” a fruitful book to read during quarantine. 

Finally, and most recently, in early June, I read, “The Mothers.”  This story weaves together three characters’ lives and choices in a way that is fascinating.  The main character’s mother’s suicide and later the main character’s choice to have an abortion haunt and affect every life in the book – even the titular group – the Mothers of the church.  I loved the writing and the female perspective of main character, not only her perspective as a woman, but as an African-American woman.  I learned from the author’s depiction of life especially as it centered around the local church, but also I related to the main character going through college and law school.  Her choices were her own and she owned them.  In the end, I believe the book was meant to challenge you with concepts of regret, loss, and community.  Each issue seemed to be presented in a balanced way that caused me to see both sides – whether it was suicide, abortion, marriage, infidelity, family, church, or identity.  This book is excellent no matter what, and I could have read it anytime, in fact, a friend read and recommended it just weeks before, but when everything happened following George Floyd’s death, this book was on a book list to read now.  I agree.  I think this is a book that teaches effortlessly about the racial struggles that this young, black woman faced following her mother’s suicide, while at the same time teaches universal truths about growing up and living your own life honestly and fully.  I hope that more people read this author and her books.  She is fantastically talented, and I am waiting for my turn in my library’s hold line to read her latest book, “The Vanishing Half.”

Overall, what each of these books brought me, was refuge – a place to go to get away from the worries, frustrations, and fears of the quarantine.  And while the pandemic continues to loom all around us, with spikes in cases popping up weekly, I still continue my voracious reading.  Even with the ability to sit outside at a restaurant or shop inside more stores, I am finding solace in reading a book outside on my porch, in bed before my lights are turned out, or listening in one of my ears as I coordinate Zoom summer school classes, make breakfast, clean dishes, change laundry, Clorox wipe touch points, water my victory garden, and get our days started!  Reading for me is about expanding the mind to explore new possibilities and learn from other’s perspectives.  I can’t even put into words how comforting reading has been for me during the pandemic. 

My hope is that everyone’s well-being can improve by reading more.  Think outside the box when it comes to reading – download audiobooks so you can listen in the car, pop in earbuds while you do your laundry or clean your own house, make sure there is a hard copy book on your nightstand.  Finding a few minutes here or there to read or listen to an audiobook can add up to a lot more books read, adventures taken, perspectives shifted, and refuge taken. 

2020 © Megan Davia Mikhail

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