Reading in The Time of COVID-19 – When Books Can’t Cure Loneliness.

Lockdown, along with nine months of unemployment earlier this year, gave me more time than usual to read. Yet, the amount of books I have gotten through since the pandemic began, is not particularly impressive. The thing is, a lot of the time I feel too lonely to read.

The phrase “reading makes me feel less lonely” is one I have heard multiple times, both in interviews with authors about their early reading experiences, or from friends who share my love of literature. I do love to read. But it doesn’t necessarily make me feel less lonely. In fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect.

Born an introvert, I naturally enjoy alone-time. I need to be alone in order to recuperate and regain energy. But even for an introvert there is such a thing as too much alone time. And lately, this has become clearer than ever. Social restrictions combined with the fact that I have recently moved to a new city and haven’t had much opportunity to expand my social network, means I have ended up feeling more isolated and lonely than usual (like many others in these difficult times).

While reading a good book used to be a sought after moment of alone-time, it now often feels like stepping further into a deeper layer of loneliness. Reading is a silent and solitary act. I have enough solitary moments as it is in my daily life, and so the idea of disappearing into the pages of a paperback doesn’t hold the same allure that it used to. I suppose that’s why I so often end up watching Netflix instead of reading.

Watching TV makes me feel less lonely. The sight and sound of other people filling the room. The activity on the screen does a little to help fill up that void of isolation that seems to linger in my living space. Considering the amount of screen time I have, I have watched an impressively small amount of actual films. I tend to re-watch TV-series for the second, third or sixth time. Or I end up falling down Youtube rabbit holes, jumping aimlessly and half-heartedly from one distraction to the next. Before I know it, the clock is pushing bedtime and it is too late to read.

During the first global wave of the pandemic, I remember there being countless articles with recommended reading lists for people in lockdown. Now, they stated, was the time to finally get around to reading those classics one never had time to delve into back when life was normal. People finally had time to read War and Peace, Moby Dick, and Ulysses. Back in March or April, I picked up Anna Karenina. By August I had gotten to page three-hundred and something, finally admitted defeat and returned it to the library, some six months after I started reading.

I love to read. But, during this pandemic I have realised that reading, much like any other activity, requires a particular state of mind. If I feel restless, lonely or sad, reading becomes difficult. I feel those sensations a lot, especially lately. And so, despite having an ever-growing “to-read” list, I often lack the will to pick up a paperback and settle down into the written words on the page. I do honestly believe that if I was in a relationship, I probably would read a lot more. There’s something about that constant solitariness that keeps me from feeling content enough to settle down with a book and just be.

I miss people. I miss connections. I’m tired of being with my own thoughts every evening when I get home from work. I can’t eat a meal without either watching something on my computer screen or listening to a podcast. I seem to need a constant distraction, some sound or voice to drown out the monotony of everyday life. Likewise I can’t make a meal or clean the flat without Spotify on in the background. I miss voices. I miss conversations. I miss hugs.

Reading can provide many benefits. It expands the mind, encourages creativity and lets you escape into another world. But literature is a poor substitute for loneliness, in my opinion. A book can communicate to me, but I can’t reciprocate. A book can make me laugh, but it won’t listen if I try to tell it about the funny thing I witnessed on the street earlier today. A book can be read in a comfy chair, but it is a poor excuse for a cuddle buddy.

The very thing that in my opinion makes reading worthwhile, the joy of having time to oneself, is rarely appealing anymore. I already have too much time to myself. The pandemic has left us all wounded, more vulnerable to loneliness, boredom and depression. I hope and wait for the day when sitting down with a good book can again feel like a much longed for moment of alone time, and not like a deeper plunge into loneliness and isolation.


If you are struggling, feeling low or need someone to talk to, reach out to someone you trust. Or contact a mental health service close to you.

Some useful points of contact:

UK:
https://www.samaritans.org/
www.menshealthforum.org.uk
https://www.mind.org.uk/
https://giveusashout.org/

Ireland:
https://www.samaritans.org/samaritans-ireland/

Norway:
https://mentalhelse.no/fa-hjelp/hjelpetelefonen
https://www.sidetmedord.no/
https://meldinger.kirkens-sos.no/#/

Published by ScandiScribe

A twenty-something half Norwegian, half English girl based in Norway. Using this blog as a platform to write and reflect on topics such as literature, music, the natural environment, gender, identity and cultural politics.

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