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Student Voice: The Joys of Reading in Quarantine. At a Time Dominated by Technology, I’m Getting Lost in Books

By Talia Natterson | May 13, 2020

(Andrew Lichtenstein / Getty Images)

As global pandemics go, COVID-19 came at the best time in history, I have been told.

For a while, I agreed. I could watch television for hours on end, have daily FaceTime calls with friends and study, all without unnecessarily exposing myself to the coronavirus. This “break” seemed like a blessing in disguise. I could relax while doing well in school and still maintain a semi-social life by texting, calling or even sending selfies on social media. Modern technology was the silver lining to this quarantine. Or so it seemed.

Just one week into the lockdown, my vision of a blissful, calming pause in the school year turned melancholy when my grandmother’s partner of almost 14 years passed away from lung cancer. Because of the pandemic, new laws passed in Los Angeles regulating the number of people who could attend a funeral meant my family had to mourn alone. I had no experience grieving for someone I held so close to my heart. Suddenly, it felt like nothing could raise my spirits. I longed for an escape from this new reality of the world around me and my isolation at home. I dreamed of utopias and alternate universes in which coronavirus had never infected people and the man I thought of as my grandfather still talked to me. Suddenly, in the middle of one of my daydreams, I jolted out of bed and knew what I had to do: I would read books.

In the morning, I created a list of novels by famous authors whom I longed to read. Tales that had been published far before I was born filled my online shopping cart, and as soon as the books arrived, I dug in. While the pieces I selected did not take place in true utopias, they took my mind off current events. I laughed at Lady Susan’s flirtatious behavior and shuddered at the demise of Dorian Gray. Through these characters and their fictionalized worlds, I imagined a better future rather than dwelling in the present or longing for the past.

I am shocked by how unappealing technology has become for me during this “corona-cation.” Except for school, which occupies about six hours of my day, I sit with a book in hand, taking in the words of historical authors. My free time hardly includes a computer unless I am writing or studying, and my phone has never been used less. Yes, communication with some of the real characters in my life has taken a hit. I still talk with friends on a daily basis, but there’s almost nothing to chat about other than school and the virus. As odd as this sounds, my fictional friends have far more interesting news to share. I love my real-life friends, don’t get me wrong, but new and interesting conversation starters are very hard to come by at a moment when we aren’t going anywhere, meeting anyone or experiencing anything particularly new. Who would have thought paperbacks would be my savior in a moment controlled by the internet?

Talia Natterson

In these novels, people are living with passion, falling in love and finding themselves in tricky little situations. Traveling around the world is not prohibited but rather encouraged, and illness is not the most common cause of death. Holding hands is expected rather than tabooed, and gathering in large groups each night is downright ordinary. The lives these characters live bring me back to the months before quarantine, and suddenly, the sun starts to peek out of my gray, cloudy mindset.

As a child, years before I owned a cell phone, operated a computer or knew any websites other than YouTube, my days were filled with books. Harry Potter filled my mind with wonder, while The Mysterious Benedict Society planted excitement. I credit books with shaping my sense of humor and curious ideas, among other things. The stories were my mind’s food, and it was always hungry. Friendships like those in Ivy and Bean and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants encouraged me to go out of my way and meet new people, but also to never forget my oldest companions. Meanwhile, Wonder taught me the importance of not judging someone for their looks and to be kind to everyone. Eventually, my imagination ran stale, and my spark for wonder flickered just a bit less. Yet in just a handful of pandemic-inflicted weeks, that youthfulness has returned, right when I needed it most.

Even though I’ve experienced heartbreak and solitude, rediscovering my literary self has been a major positive. The objects that have anchored me through these crazy times, books, have been thrown to the side by most because technology often seems more appealing; but television is not a lifesaver. We probably all agree that Netflix is fun for short periods, but when you find yourself rewatching Gossip Girl or Glee once again, don’t be scared to hit the off button. If you are not simply cruising through this downtime but find yourself struggling, worried or lost, then rethink picking up a book — it won’t bite. Instead, reading will take your mind off the present, inspiring you to look with positivity toward the future.

“Pandemic Notebook” is an ongoing collection of first-person, student-written articles about what it is like to live through the coronavirus pandemic. Have an idea? Please contact Executive Editor Andrew Brownstein at Andrew@The74million.org.

Talia Natterson is a sophomore at Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, a private school in Los Angeles, California. She writes for her school publication, Crossfire.

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