I’m a reader. Anyone who has known me for more than about five seconds knows this. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that my attitude is directly affected by whatever I’m reading at the time.
Positive thinking and self-help? I become a motivated go-getter.
A beautiful love story? I become a swoony romantic.
I cry at tragedies and rage at stories of oppression and inequality. And is it any wonder I try to avoid the whole horror genre altogether?
It’s called empathy. We all have it to some degree as a part of being healthy, functional human beings. (Those who don’t are what professionals refer to as sociopaths.)
Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I would extend that to include the media we consume daily. That means that we need to be selective about what we allow near us and in what quantities.
When we all first started to take COVID-19 seriously, like most of the country (and the world), I stayed tuned in to the news and social media. But gradually, I began to notice changes in my attitude and state of mind. It began to affect my work, my sleep, my relationships, and even my ability to function in everyday life.
My reading habits had become unbalanced, weighted too heavily on the doom and gloom and emotional hysteria. It didn’t matter what side people were on; their emotional reactions were the same. Fear and anger.
This imbalance started eating us from the inside out. That’s how we find ourselves ripping apart our friends, family, and neighbors, both on social media and in person. While it might feel good in the moment to release tension by lashing out at people we think are acting foolishly or selfishly, it damages our character in the long term. And it doesn't just fail to deter others from wrong behavior; it can even have the opposite effect.
Once I became aware of the effects of my unbalanced reading material, I made a conscious effort to change my habits.
One upside of the stay-at-home orders most of us are under is that we have the time and opportunity to do some of that reading we always meant to get to but just didn’t have the time for. So, let’s put down the remote, give Netflix and Disney+ a rest, and engage in some constructive consumption!
I’ve broken down my suggestions for potential reading material into a few categories, but feel free to add your own. Just be deliberate and thoughtful about it. And if you’re interested in my personal reading list from the last month or so, I’ve included that, too.
Social Media and News
That’s right! I put social media on my quarantine reading list.
Most of us recognize by now that our nonstop consumption of social media and news, with all of the panic and hysteria involved, has become a major problem for our mental health. So, the obvious answer is to cut it off altogether, right?
Not so fast!
COVID-19, along with the current events and societal changes, is a real thing, and we should be aware of what is going on in the world and how it might affect us. Burying our heads in the sand is a childish reaction and, quite frankly, one most of us can’t afford. We have lives and duties and obligations, both to ourselves and to others.
But that doesn’t mean we have to let current events take over our lives. However, how that looks might be different for each of us, based on our circumstances and personalities.
One great piece of advice I’ve heard repeated lately is to consciously limit the amount of time we spend checking social media and the news. Don’t have CNN playing in the background 24/7! Choose a time limit and stick to it.
The time of day we consume our media can have a huge impact on our ability to function, too. I’ve found that first thing in the morning and right before bed are horrible times for me. Starting with a hefty dose of negativity just sets the wrong tone for the day, and ending it with worry and anxiety is a great recipe for insomnia, which just sets the next day up for failure. It becomes this vicious cycle.
Likewise, allowing social media into the middle of my workday disrupts my workflow and drops my productivity way down.
We do need to stay in touch with the world. However, we do also have control over the sources of our input. While we want to get news from all sides of today’s issues in order to keep a balanced view, it may be necessary to snooze or unfollow posts from consistently unhelpful or negative sources.
We want news, not hysteria!
In a podcast I listened to recently, Pat Lencioni said something that resonated with me. “Don’t ask, ‘How am I going to survive this?’ Rather, ask, ‘How am I going to thrive during this?’”
My outlook shifted from survival mode to looking for ways to use this disruption of my life’s routines and my newfound free time to finally motivate me to start reaching for the goals I’ve been putting off.
For me, that goal was actively building my editing hobby into an editing business. I don’t know what that might look like for you.
Have you always wanted to start your own business? This is the perfect time to lay the groundwork!
Or maybe you don’t know what you want to achieve; you just know that you’ve been unhappy with your life for some time. This is a great opportunity to start reading books that can help you figure that out.
Remember what I said earlier about being the average of the five people you spend the most time with? We may not have the opportunity to spend time with great thinkers, influential leaders, and others that we admire, but they were kind enough to encapsulate themselves and their ideas into these neat little things we call books. And we can get our hands on those!
Have you always wanted to start a new hobby or pick up a new skill? Maybe current events have convinced you of the wisdom of having your own home garden.
There are thousands upon thousands of books, magazines, blogs, and online articles about any subject you could wish for! If people are doing something, you can just about bet there’s someone telling others how to do it too.
I’m constantly looking up recipes and recipe fixes. Like how to make frosting without powdered sugar.
Gardening, cooking, baking, woodworking, composting, home improvement, birdwatching, yodeling, dancing, singing, hair care, makeup, bonsai, writing, painting, dog grooming, learning a new language, making up your own language, sewing, feng shui, training for a marathon…
There’s no end to the list of possibilities!
Sometimes, you just need a break, especially if your life normally has you going at such a hectic pace that you’ve had the same novel sitting on your nightstand for the last three years. Maybe, to you, “thriving during this” means finally taking the time to rest, recharge, and recover physically and mentally.
I can’t finish my day without unwinding with at least a few chapters of a good novel. I’m better able to let go of the day, get a good night’s sleep, and face the next day with a much more positive mindset.
Now, I don’t care what you choose to read, whether fiction or nonfiction, as long as it’s for pleasure. If the autobiography of someone who fascinates you floats your boat? Or a crime thriller? Or romance or cozy mysteries or westerns or sci-fi? Go for it!
Remember—your reading preferences are as unique as you are.
Maybe you have reading the classics on your bucket list. That’s great. Just remember that the key word here is entertainment. So, if Moby Dick just isn’t capturing your attention and keeping your mind occupied, let it go and move on.
Do you want to know a secret? I have a B.A. in English, and I’ve never read Moby Dick, nor do I ever intend to. There are so many great books out there just waiting to be read. More than you or I could ever hope to read in a lifetime, so I think we can let a few slide. Besides, the contemporary books you read today are the classics of tomorrow!
The only exception that I might make is to not choose something masochistic. What I mean is that we might want to avoid anything that too closely resembles current circumstances. Let’s leave Outbreak for another time!
And you can bet I’m not touching The Hunger Games or anything else post-apocalyptic!
Blogs and Newsletters
Is there someone you admire or aspire to be like? Chances are they have their own blog or newsletter.
I subscribe to several blogs and newsletters. Some are more experienced editors that I can learn from. Others are authors whose work I enjoy.
Maybe your thing is lifestyle tips. Maybe it’s travel. Or food. Or carpentry. There’s a blog for everyone!
If you have a favorite author, look them up. Whether through a website, blog, or newsletter, a lot of authors provide free bonus content to their subscribers.
Who says reading has to mean sitting down with a printed page? If you’d rather have someone else read to you, most books now come in audio format.
I love this option because it allows me to multitask. I can read a book and cook supper at the same time, especially helpful for some of the drier nonfiction.
Some books have a great message, but they’re so content heavy I have trouble keeping my mind focused while I read. But if I can do a mindless task that only requires the use of my hands, my mind does a better job of staying engaged.
There are a lot of everyday tasks that need to be done but don’t actually require much concentration or mental power: cooking, knitting, gardening, housework, home repairs, yardwork, etc. Why not use that otherwise-empty time?
Sources for Reading Material
If your town is like mine, unfortunately, most bookstores and libraries have temporarily closed their doors. And even Amazon is giving priority to “essential” items, so it might take weeks to get any book you order.
Never fear, though! Because we have the good fortune of living in a digital age.
Things like social media and blogs are exclusively available online. But most books are available digitally as well. So, as long as you have an internet connection, you can read, whether you prefer to read on your phone, tablet, or computer.
But what about the cost?
Good news there, too!
Most libraries offer access to both e-books and audiobooks to their patrons. My library offers us access through both Overdrive and Hoopla. They even bumped our Hoopla borrow limit up for the duration of the stay-at-home order. Check with your own library. You never know!
There are also websites, like Goodreads and BookBub, that connect readers with deals on e-books and audiobooks. Goodreads frequently hosts author giveaways, and BookBub monitors when authors put their books on sale on any of the major platforms. You can even get books for free.
And if you are a voracious reader like me and need access to even more e-books than your current borrow limit allows, you might consider something along the lines of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. There is a monthly fee, so it’s not completely free. But there are a lot of authors who recognize the increased demand and are making more of their books available on that platform for a time.
My Reading List
I go through a lot of books, especially novels, in the course of a month, but these are an overview of some of the things I’ve been reading lately.
Is there anything you'd like to add to my list? Drop me a comment below.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.