Seeking a sweet escape: Reading through the pandemic

Sierra Principal reads up on the story of Ona Judge, an enslaved woman who ran away from the household of George and Martha Washington. Photo by Imani Mckisson.

By Sandra G. Ndengue

All the media  — even TV comedy shows – were focusing on the pandemic. I needed a respite from fear and panic. So I opted for a sweet escape: reading, done at convenience via select outlets.

Reading has always been a place for discovery, exploration, and travel. It’s like being in a time capsule, anywhere.

My usual reads are nonfiction, autobiographies and memoirs — books that  help me understand and navigate someone else’s life experiences, living in their truth and finding a deeper connection. But during the pandemic, my reads were mostly fiction, focusing on African authors around  the globe and exploring culture in their respective world and how their origins and perspective affect society and how they developed as persons.

With the lockdown, lots of people have found solace in reading. 

Patrons at the Malden Public Library can utilize curbside pick up to get books and other material.

“Before the pandemic more people borrowed non fiction and  memoirs but now people seem to fall back to fiction, fantasy and classics,” said Dora St. Martin, Executive Director of the Malden Public Library.

Shaneuik, a 37-year-old nurse at a Boston Hospital, mom of two and former Malden resident, was recently diagnosed with  an advanced stage of breast cancer. She finds strength in inspirational and motivational books like You 2 by Price Pritchett, which aims to help you achieve breakthrough performances and build success. Shaneuik reads because it gives her strength and hope to get her going as she plans on winning and being illness-free.

Many people confess to rereading old books because in them, they find a sense of deja vu. As Aarya Marsden, an avid reader, said, “You already know what’s going to happen, no spoiler alert needed. There’s comfort in being able to control and predict your surroundings. It’s a relief to sink into something that goes exactly to plan.”

I usually borrow books from the local library and the process has always been relatively easy once you’ve got a library card. You sign up for one and when it’s ready, an email is sent for you to pick it up. But the pandemic changed things and it became more difficult to access hardcopy books.  I prefer hardcopy books to ebooks — I like holding my book and flipping pages as I advance to the next chapter. I find it easier than reading an ebook and constantly staring at a screen. 

The Malden Library building may be closed to the public but its services continue. See the library’s web site or Facebook page for information.

Larrington, a jewelry Complex Manager at Macy’s, is the opposite. As an avid reader, he favors ebooks; he says it’s easy for travel especially in public transport. Yet  he is not fond of audio reads, admitting it  lacks physical contact.

A book does not always have to be comfortable. Larrington adds that although his preferences are gay erotic, romance, thriller centered, his favorite books of all time is the 1992 Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker and  She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Books which talk about  depression, obesity, female genital mutilation and abortion. 

As a male, who will never experience these things, he finds these books gives him an opportunity to learn about these unknown feeling and get in the character’s shoes. 

“Reading takes your mind to a different universe,”  he said. 

After reserving your material, make an appointment for pick up or call the library when you arrive. Photo by Imani Mckisson.

The Malden Public Library has been forced to close its building to the public due to pandemic concerns,  but the staff continues to provide services. Library-card holders may still check out books, DVDs, music, and other material via curb-side pick up.

Patrons may request items either from the library website’s catalog or via phone (781-324-0218). This service is available Mondays and Tuesdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Wednesdays 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and, Saturdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. You will need a card to to reserve material; and if you don’t have one, you can apply for a library card online here. You will notified (by text or email) when your requested item is ready; call beforehand or when you get there to pick up your material. Librarians will place material on outside carts.

Additionally, the library is hosting numerous online events, from storytelling for children to free English Conversation Classes to game events. Check out the library’s Facebook page or the events calendar.

Earlier this summer, the library staged a drive-by and socially distancing event to highlight its services for children. Even Snow White wore a mask. Photo by Martha Bezzat

The library has created children’s programs, such as Book Bundles  in which books with similar themes are bunched together upon request, videos of song and rhythm time, Anime Club, read aloud and craft programs, ESL Classes and the Story Walk Program on River Edge Park, a social distance outdoor reading activities with both parents and children.

“We have a lot of  books and material that people want to read,” said Rebecca Smith, Malden Children’s Librarian. “We really want to serve the community the best we can under the current circumstances.”

When a kid reads a book about super heroes or fairy tales, they escape the world and become the person who they want to be regardless of setting and time. When we read Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, we get absorbed in the character’s lifestyle and opulence. 

As for me, I read to find realism, bridge a connection between myself and a parallel place and time and to be a better writer. 

The Malden Public Library held a socially distancing event during the summer to highlight its services for children. Photo by Martha Bezzat.

My current picks:  Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela, which travels between Egypt and Sudan  exploring custom and marriage in a wealthy Muslim family in the 1950’s; and Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, which  explores marriage, fertility and customs in Nigeria. 

Attorney Scotty McLennan  teaches a course at Stanford Graduate School of Business called The Business World: Moral and Spiritual Inquiry Through Literature.” In the web article, “Reading through the Pandemic,” he says that “Good literature… is valuable through its nuances, twist, turns, its dilemmas, its paradoxes. It helps us see more than is otherwise seen and focus on what ultimately matters. … Reading helps us get deep into the minds and hearts of people. …We see human condition laid bare, character of people, interaction of all the different forces in society and I think it’s one of the best ways to find help.”

Sandra Ndengue is a Malden resident and a citizen journalist for Neighborhood View. Editing and additional reporting by Stephanie Schorow.

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