• Carolyn Steele Agosta

Books in a Time of Quarantine

Yesterday, the North Carolina governor extended his ‘stay-at-home’ order another nine days to May 8th. I wasn’t surprised – in fact, I’ll be surprised if that date doesn’t get extended again. Still, it hit me surprisingly hard. I found myself angry and emotional, even though I’m not experiencing the extreme difficulties that many people are. I haven’t lost my job (I’m retired anyway), I’m not trying to homeschool young children (or – good grief – teenagers!), and I live in a neighborhood where it’s entirely possible to get outside for a walk without running any risks (even the dogs around here are friendly). I know I’m lucky.


But the monotony and isolation are getting to me, yes.


As a writer, my natural inclination is to write about the experience. But I don’t want to just spew all my frustration on the page, and – at the moment – I don’t feel like just making jokes, either. So, I’m going to be like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and think about a few of my favorite things.


Books.


Lovely, wonderful books.


In a time of quarantine, they can still take me places and set me free to wander some lovely English countryside, or magically fly through the air, or travel back in time to World War II when folks on the home front had no choice but to sit tight and wait to see what would happen.

Like many right now, I’m reading a lot. Well, I always read a lot, but more than usual. Old favorites, new soon-to-become favorites, upbeat stuff, non-fiction, even books-on-CD. And it’s made me reflect on how a love of reading shaped my life. There are books I’ve read that changed my thinking. Made me understand someone or something that I couldn’t have, otherwise. Books have been my companions, my comfort – and sometimes, my shield or my lifeline.


And I know, from the people I’ve talked with (or our modern equivalent, Facebooked with) that other people are doing a lot of reading right now. Some, because they have free time right now that they usually don’t. Some, because they’re looking for an escape from the news cycle. Some, because TV – even with all the channels accessible to us – has begun to pall. Some, because six weeks of being with their loved ones 24/7 has become a bit much and they need that cone of isolation that reading a book can give.


And although I have been a bookworm since before I could read – Mom always read to us and provided many books for us to look at – I didn’t begin writing my own stories until I was in my mid-forties. And immediately found it was a wonderful outlet during times of stress. So….

I stressed out all last evening over the news about the extended stay-at-home order. Stressed out, snapped at my husband, even snapped at the news commentator (bastard). Probably drove my sister to go stay in her own room, although she’s too sweet to say so. Slept badly. Even though I expected the extension. Even though I know my personal situation is far from terrible. Even though I know there’s nothing to be gained by stressing about it.


Seriously, though, can I just say “Gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!”


This morning, I got up early, made coffee, had breakfast, and read a book. Thought about the comfort it gave me. And decided to write this.


I think I might write more about books in the next few weeks. About my favorite childhood books, about libraries and bookstores, about book clubs and book friends, about books that made me mad, and books I’ve reread more than once. Book recommendations and book illustrations, and just anything about books.


Because I can think about books and not be in pain, and not suffer from guilt for being a pain. I don’t like myself when I’m a pain. So, here’s to many happy conversations about books. Lovely, wonderful books.

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