GUEST POST: Reading in a time of Corona

We’re thrilled to welcome back to our blog, booklover and guest blogger Paul Grech

I don’t think I will win any originality points for saying that 2020 has been a write-off of a year. The matter-that-shall-not-be-mentioned upended all of our lives in March and, despite occasional signs of normality returning, the situation is still pretty much abnormal.

Certainly, the inability to meet up in large crowds forced many to look for new forms of entertainment. More so for me given that a slip a couple of weeks back resulted in a broken wrist that has further limited my recreational options.

Early on, social media was ablaze with pictures of homemade bread (well, after images of empty supermarkets shelves had run their course) and this seemed to be the activity that consumed most people stuck at home with their families.

Not for me, though. I went back to basics and the passtime that has consistently brought joy to my life ever since I was a child: books. Now, I’ve always been an avid reader but as you grow you find that there are many other responsibilities clamouring for your time so much that it sometimes feels like a transgression to use your free time reading.

The sudden disappearance of so many of those demands freed me from that guilt and I could more easily sink in hours at a time reading thus making a dent in the ever growing to-be-read pile.

Of course, and I believe that this is an experienced shared by any book lover, ultimately I ended up adding to that pile because the whole situation put me off any book that seemed to be too serious in nature and sent me in search of less challenging kinds of book. Reading through the list of titles I’ve consumed this year, I realise that I’ve gone mostly for comfort reads that did not require a lot of thinking or reflection.

Sci-fi and fantasy have always been among my favourite genres and they became even more so. However, I also found myself reading a lot more crime novels, finishing off Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano series and then picking up Antonio Manzini’s Rocco Schiavone books. In between, I blazed through Andrew Cartmel’s Vinyl Detective Mysteries which I loved largely because they spoke of another passion of mine, music.

Even so this sudden craving for crime novels initially puzzled me. Thinking about it, however, it isn’t so surprising. As a child I used to love reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books with their mysteries and genial intuition that ultimately unmasked the perpetrators. The formula that the likes of Camilleri adopt is pretty much the same, only just darker and with more adult themes thrown in.

Subconsciously then, I was throwing myself back into old comforts in more ways than one. There isn’t much that I will look back favourably on about 2020 but the freedom to follow up on my reading will certainly be one of them. After all, it is not often that we get to re-live a slice of our childhood.

PS – If you want to know (and, if you’re anything like me, you will) my favourite read this year has been Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. Beautiful, luxurious writing that magically blends mystery, fantasy and nature genres. Seriously, check it out.

– Paul Grech