A few months into the pandemic and four weeks after George Floyd’s death, one of my friends called me. “I was hardly able to get out of bed last month,” she said. I felt my throat tighten. As a white woman I’d hardly drawn a full breath since Floyd’s death. My friend, a Black woman and was understandably hit to her core. I could feel the void the violence of the past months had created into and how powerless we both felt to change what was happening in the world. “It’s devastating,” I said. We sat there on the phone without speaking for several minutes.
“You sound stronger now,” I said the next time we talked.
“I found this book—it’s really helping,” she said.
She told me about How to Be an Antiracist. How the author, Ibram X. Kendi, was giving her language for feelings she’d had all her life. How he was showing her how to heal. I ordered it before we got off the phone. Fifteen years ago, a book I “randomly” picked up in the Boston Airport helped save my life, so I understood how one book could get you up off the couch, from the bed, from the floor.
During this past year many of us have turned to TV, YouTube, Zoom parties, or TikTok threads to “get us through,” but I knew many of us had to also be reading. I discovered online that the book industry, particularly e-books (none of those pesky quarantine germs), exploded in 2020 with a record 750.9 million books sold. [https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/85256-print-unit-sales-rose-8-2-in-2020.html]
I liked hearing those numbers, but I craved knowing exactly what other moms, dads, artists, activists, and teachers were reading in this incredible time. So, I did what any bibliophile in the age of social media would do—I took a poll.
Using both social media and email, I posed a single question to the 20K people I am lucky enough to be connected with online: “What book has helped you the most during the COVID-19 pandemic?” The answers flew in from across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. The resounding number one book, across all the women surveyed, was Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. This book was already a favorite but Doyle’s message of authenticity, courage, and devotion to loving the people with whom we share our lives was a lifeline for many women in this ultra-challenging year.
Some readers who usually preferred fiction found themselves craving self-help (Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change), health (Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art), and books that offered support with societal challenges (White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism and the aforementioned How to Be an Antiracist). Others chose reading for escape, relishing hours spent in Proust’s Paris, Homer’s ancient Greece (The Odyssey was a top pick for classics, particularly among men), or the thrilling 1970s music world of Daisy Jones & The Six.
Many readers reported another challenge. They had trouble concentrating on Twitter threads let alone an entire book. The books that were able to hold their attention were mysteries and thrillers. During the tense weeks leading up to the presidential election, one woman discovered Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series and found herself feeling lighter, laughing with her husband and baking lemon meringue pie.
While vaccines are being administered in greater quantities, we likely still have some time before we’re out traveling, vibrating to live music, seeing Hamilton again in the theater, or eating with ALL our friends at our favorite restaurant. We could spend the upcoming months watching Netflix or we could take one or two more amazing adventures with a favorite author.
Here are three ways to enrich the literary journey:
- Get Smart: Pick a challenging book (One Hundred Years of Solitude or Infinite Jest) and read it with the support of a class or reading group like those through universities such as Harvard through edX: https://www.edx.org/course/subject/literature
- Immersion Excursion: Choose a book in a place where you long to travel and in addition to reading about it, listen to music, cook or order food, and look at visual imagery (art, photography, documentaries) of the region (Julia Child’s My Life in France is a favorite).
- Multigenerational Book Club: Select a book and read/discuss it with aunts, uncles, and cousins on Zoom (To Kill a Mockingbird was the top choice for family club).
Through books, worlds, friends, universes, amazing food, and enlightenment await us. Because reading requires our brains to produce the visual images, spending time with books also helps our brain moderate some of the lethargy of quarantine. So, until that glorious day when we step off that plane onto a beach so sunny we have to squint, or pull our arms around the parents we’ve missed so dearly, let’s read.
Sara Connell is the founder of Thought Leader Academy where she helps women change lives by writing bestselling books and speaking. She’s been featured on Oprah, The View, FOX, TEDx, The New York Times, Parenting and Good Housekeeping.
Ready to write your own book? Check out Sara’s “How to Write a Bestseller in 12 Weeks Masterclass” https://saraconnell.mykajabi.com/writeyourbookmasterclass