Accidental Coping: Comfort Reading


Has anyone else been having trouble reading?

One of the ways my anxiety seems to manifest is in an inability to concentrate well on reading. This is disconcerting in many ways, but most especially because reading has always been my great escape, my surest diversion from life’s troubles. 

These are strange times, indeed, and troubling, and I expect that’s why I’ve had difficulty reading. Whatever the cause, the result is this: I’ve been absorbing a lot of poetry, but when I turn to prose I lose concentration. Where normally I’m transported to another world, instead I find myself firmly trapped in this one, reading the same pages over and over without managing to absorb the words.

It turns out the solution is young adult literature.

Go ahead, take a moment to laugh. 

I discovered this somewhat by accident, after strolling into my son’s former room and picking up a book I recall giving to him years ago: The Mysterious Benedict Society. It looked like it had never been cracked open, despite having an inviting cover and a back-cover blurb that promised action, intrigue, and puzzles (puzzles!).

I’m a sucker for a mystery or a puzzle (are they really that different?), and I’d been ruing the fact that I’d finished my last borrowed whodunnit just as my community and state issued shelter-in-place orders that closed my public library’s doors. I’d been thinking that a purely plot-driven story might be what I needed, but I hadn’t been able to lay my hands on one at home.

So I sat down with The Mysterious Benedict Society and quickly reaped my reward. Not only did a lively plot and unchallenging reading level draw me in. I also found some timely surprises. It’s set in a time clouded by a vaguely defined “Emergency,” a trouble that hangs over all the workings of society. Government agencies have been dismantled, and those in power aren’t taking necessary steps to deal with problems put before them. A drone of nonsensical phrases broadcast surreptitiously through televisions is anesthetizing the public. 

“Something is approaching,” Mr. Benedict said. “Something dreadful. These messages are connected to it, but they are only the beginning. What’s coming is worse, far worse—a looming darkness, like storm clouds sweeping in to cover the sky.”

And so I read, tearing through 485 pages in a couple of days while also doing my day job. Success! Buoyed, I decided to see if I could apply my rediscovered literary concentration to an adult book. Daring, yes. I’d wanted to try an ebook—I’m one of the last people I know who had never read one—so I opened up my library’s Hoopla connection and chose one that seemed light and amusing: a memoir by a young autistic Canadian comic: Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic by Michael McCreary.

My instincts were right. It was light, informative, enjoyable, easy to read…hmmmm, maybe a little too easy to read, I thought, so I looked more closely at the Hoopla listing and found that the expanded description included this: “an invaluable and compelling read for young readers with ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder] looking for voices to relate to, as well as for readers hoping to broaden their understanding of ASD.” So, basically, young adult nonfiction.

So that’s the secret: Young adult literature. For anyone having trouble concentrating on books these days, that’s my recommendation: If you read it in junior high, or could have read it in junior high, give it a try again now.

Emboldened by my success with these two young adult books, I’ve decided to test slightly deeper waters. I’m now midway through my first-ever Phryne Fisher mystery and happy to report that a plot-driven mystery also is within my pandemic reading range.

Thanks to Hoopla, I have many more titles available to me as ebooks and am hopeful that someday I might work my way back to the more substantial piles of unread hardbacks and paperbacks lying around my house.

If not, I can always fall back on the old Hardy Boys mysteries in my upstairs bookcase.

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic

Hoopla

Kim Kishbaugh is no kind of artist at all, but a lover of art in many different forms. She travels through life with an open mind and open eyes in search of magic, and sometimes finds it. She is Escape Into Life‘s social media editor and a long-time journalist with an unsettling history of seeing the companies she works for go out of business. She blogs occasionally at kkish.net.