Monday, November 16, 2020

Books, Reading, and ...

 ... attention span! I know that many of you are readers, and with more time at home, you would really enjoy losing yourself in a lovely, immersive book, if only for a while. But if you're anything like me, your attention span has been on the wane since March. You start a book, only to find yourself re-reading the same sentence multiple times and still not comprehending it. You start a book that you have really been looking forward to, but lose interest early on and have to force yourself to pick it up again. If you have managed to maintain some interest you quickly lose sight of the plot or wonder who this character might be that you don't recall at all.

Reading is one of the joys in my life and would provide a superb coping mechanism during the pandemic if only I were able to do it better. I've heard the same thing from many, many people, and decided to look for some ways to possibly improve the situation. 

First of all, loss of attention and focus during the pandemic is completely normal. This article was written in May of this year, but it still holds true, and maybe even more so now. Oliver G. Robinson, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, says, "So why are people having difficulty concentrating? That’s part of the explanation: They’re trying to resolve an uncertainty that is unresolvable." That doesn't come as news to any of us and doesn't offer any solutions, except to possibly begin to accept that our uncertainty is simply unresolvable. 

So what can you do if uncertainty is here to stay for the foreseeable future? Here is a list of things that I've tried, cobbled together from various places, and I have had some limited success. 

Meditate - This is not specific to reading, but meditating once or twice daily has allayed my anxiety, helped me to increase my focus, and settle back into reading (but not while waiting for election returns). 

Get some form of physical exercise every day - Also not directly applicable to reading, but just getting outside for a brisk walk usually enables me to think through issues, expend some pent-up energy, and return home in a better mood. And if you are a fan of audiobooks, you can listen while you walk. 

Read in a different format - If you are trying to read a "real book" and not getting anywhere, try the book on a Kindle or in audio format. Sometimes switching the format helps me greatly; I always feel like I'm making progress when I read on my Kindle because it feels like I tap the page forward more often than turning the page in a physical book. 

Read something different - If you can't concentrate on a novel, try a short story. Here's a short story recommendation by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that is free with Amazon Prime. Also, an Agatha Christie collection, an Hercule Poirot Christmas short story, and the entire Sherlock Holmes collection, all free. I don't think there is anything wrong with reading a romance, graphic novel, or just the cereal box if that is what you are currently able to focus on. A good friend and I had an email exchange about re-reading Rosamunde Pilcher novels. They may not be great literature, but for me, Winter Solstice is just what I need now. 

Set goals - Not high-minded, impossible ones, but maybe try reading for ten minutes, then increasing the time if you are able. 

Cut yourself some slack - While reading for pleasure used to be a source of pleasure for many of us, it is not a necessity, so maybe consider a temporary hiatus from trying to read if it is non-productive and frustrating. Your priorities probably include taking care of yourself and your family, earning a living, and maintaining your mental health. If you have any energy left to devote to reading for pleasure or other pursuits, that is just fine, and also perfectly fine if you don't. 


And speaking of reading, don't forget that tomorrow is our Read With Us book discussion of The Women of Brewster Place. Carole, Kym, and I will each be posting a different question on our blogs, and you are welcome to answer and discuss these questions in the comments. Then at 7:00 pm Eastern, we will be having a Zoom discussion! If you haven't already, please let Kym, Carole, or me know that you are interested in Zooming and we will make sure that you get an invitation. I hope to see many of you!


  1. Reading has always been my refuge, and it has been distressing that I haven't been able to concentrate on it as much as I have in the past. I am so distracted sometimes. I did start Hamnet, and it is the first book in a while that pulled me in. I have been reading lots of different books, but that has brought limited progress. I, too, have found meditating very helpful, but I am not as consistent as I should be. The best day I had recently was after I raked and bagged leaves for 5 hours. It was sunny and beautiful, and afterwards I was so tired, but happy. I figure I did a 5 hour leaf meditation - LOL. I did try to stay present during the whole process.
    I have read less than half of TWBP. I just couldn't get into it. I haven't totally given up on it, but I haven't been able to read more than that yet. And I would like to zoom with you, but that is a terrible time for me, so I will be unable to do so. I hope you have a fun zoom! And thanks so much for the reading recommendations!

  2. I read the book The Women of Brewster Place and would like to participate in your discussion. Unfortunately, you are two hours ahead of me here in Utah, so I won't be available at 5 p.m. for the Zoom call, but I will comment on the blog. Thanks for hosting! I have been having abit of problem focusing enough to read, especially since the election and its crazy, troubling aftermath. I have been setting the timer on my phone and forcing myself to read between 30-60 minutes a day. I am actually making progress in a good, which I should be finishing today. Thanks for these tips. Glad to know I am not alone. Have a good day.

  3. I have definitely had some issues with concentration when I've been reading this year, and I was not surprised. I think what has made a big difference is embracing the ebook so that my hands are free to do something else. Something about keeping my hands busy seems to work to get my brain to engage with the words on the screen.

    Looking forward to the discussion tomorrow evening!

  4. I hear you on the reading struggle. It ebbs and flows here and I seem to be in an ebb right now. I hope that Cher Ami solves that problem!

  5. I have started to meditate, I've had some major family drama issues related to the pandemic that are unsolvable. These are hard times.

  6. Goos suggestions. I just canceled my library holds this morning because I can’t take the pressure of all the stacks. I have plenty of things to read when the mood and ability to focus return. For now, I am exploring more light fiction on audio too.

  7. These are great tips. I have one to add: reread an old favorite. It requires less bandwidth and eliminates the uncertainty of whether you will enjoy the book!

  8. I found that limiting my reading to certain times helps. No just picking up the book because there is nothing else to do. Then the reading is something to be looked forward to.

    I just started the Dutch House and it's holding my attention pretty well.

  9. Reading is still my refuge, but the way I read has changed. I read for shorter amounts of time and break up my reading time by doing something like taking a walk, playing piano, or working on a project. Also, certain types of books just don't appeal to me right now. I'm currently reading Miss Benson's Beetle and although the characters are sort of zany, I'm beginning to find them endearing. It is the book I need right now!

    1. It sounds like you've found some great solutions, Debbie, and I thank you for passing them along. I saw Miss Benson's Beetle on your goodreads list, and it sounded so interesting that I had to add it to mine also. I hope I don't have to wait too long to get it from the library!

  10. I have been struggling with reading, but striving to get more sleep... and since most of my reading time is in bed, well there you go. I've been listening to music more than books, I guess, as I don't really have to concentrate too hard. There have been other periods in my life where reading was next to nothing, and I'm confident that this too shall pass. :)

  11. Good suggestions Bonny! I am finally reading a bit more after not being able to for some time (even a bit pre-Covid). My biggest issue now is time and being awake enough ! LOL

  12. I was really struggling to read back in March and for quite a while, honestly. My reading mojo seems to have returned now, thankfully, and I'm (mostly) able to concentrate and enjoy reading again. Thank goodness!

  13. Thanks for these great reading tips, Bonny! Excellent advice. (And who would've thought that changing reading formats might make a difference -- but it really does.) My reading seems to be ALMOST back on track now (since spring, when I could barely concentrate on anything), but I'm reading so much more slowly these days. I'm fine with that, but it is a noticeable difference. I'm also noticing that some books that I would have enjoyed pre-Covid are just too depressing for me these days. I think a bit of Stephen King or Rosamunde Pilcher would be Just The Ticket for me right now!

  14. I am not reading as much as in normal times. Your suggestions are good ones. I put down several works of nonfiction because I couldn't concentrate. I will confess to reading and listening to mindless mysteries. On Overdrive, I found a series, the Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson. They are set in NYC at the turn of the century and the heroine is a nurse/midwife who makes house calls in the tenements. The predicability of format and characters is comforting. I listened to many of them while knitting.

  15. Oh have your read What Happened yet? I may want to read that

  16. See you tonight. And I've been reading Elin Hildebrand as my mindless nothing. I do like Rosamunde Pilcher though and I'm sure there are many I haven't read!


Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment! :-)