How Lockdown changed my reading habits

Are you leaving lockdown wishing you had read more? The experience of lockdown across the world lead to a kind of ‘reading revolution’ as we all had more time on our hands, but will this continue?

Our reading habits may have changed for better or for worse during this period, but in this post I am going to share with you how lockdown altered my habits, with the hope that it may encourage you to reflect on yours.

1. Treating reading like a job

This could be interpreted as positive or negative, but lockdown meant that I have not been at work and I had to take up something to fill the empty days with.

I started reaching out to people, became a member of NetGalley and all of a sudden had more opportunities to review books for people and companies. Working to deadlines and reading less of what I wanted has made it feel like more of a job, but definitely not a chore.

Reading has therefore, become more like a job, but one I have come to love.

Image: Violet Daniels

2. Abandoning TBRs

I love making lists of any kinds and I have always had some form of TBR going.

Having more review requests has meant I have strayed away from my personal TBR list, which I have come to realise isn’t a bad thing.

Reading habits change all the time and so do the books we want to read, sometimes it feels counterproductive to have a list to stick to. Sticking to this wholeheartedly could close down books we expose ourselves to. Everyday we learn about new books and it becomes easy to stray away from our reading plans. But so what?

I still have my TBR but I am definitely not following it strictly.

3. Realising less is more

Lockdown has played havoc for my concentration. I have found that I can only read for 15-20 minutes at a time before I start to lose focus. But on the other hand, I find myself actually picking up books more times in the day – so they probably balance each other out.

Previously, I used to try and read as much as I could in one session, as I probably only had one opportunity every day to read whilst working. But now with my time being more flexible I can read less but more frequently, which I like.

Image: Violet Daniels

4. Diversifying my reading choices

The exposure of the Black Lives Matter movement has made me realise how white my reading choices are.

I am now making a conscious effort to read more by authors of colour, especially women of colour who are majorly underrepresented in the literary industry. I am aiming to read at least one book written by a BAME author per month in an effort to diversify my reading habits.

Last month I read My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and this month I aim to read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. These are small actions but a step in the right direction, which I would encourage everyone to take.

5. Using a Kindle more

As I am receiving more books to review, these are usually in the form of e-ARCs which means I am using my Kindle a lot. I’ve also been reading outside more and Kindle’s are perfect for this.

They are lighter and easier to hold whilst being out and about and I have been enjoying using it. Obviously, it’s no replacement for the physical book, but definitely a game changer for being able to carry so much reading material on the go.

6. Books are my perfect form of escapism

Some people watch TV, films or play video games to switch off, but I read. I think I have always known this, but lockdown has really shown I do turn to alternative worlds to escape the present.

Whether it’s fiction or non fiction, I have found reading takes me away from the present and the unrelenting news cycle that can cause havoc for anxious people like me. It is perfect one to one time, a form of self care, and a break from everything that is going on.

So those were reflections on how my reading habits have fluctuated during this period. I think it’s important to remember that habits will always shift during our lives. We should never beat ourselves up if we don’t meet our own standards or stray away from our goals, but acknowledge it when it’s necessary and go from there. Have your reading habits changed, if so, how?

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Black Lives Matter

I am writing this from the perspective of a white woman, who in recent days has become even more aware of this privilege, due to the horrific death of George Floyd – a black man who was murdered by a white police officer. Although this incident is far from an isolated one, but part of a sad, ongoing injustice that has been rife in America since their history began, the graphic footage of police brutality has caused many more people to speak up.

Granted, we should have all been speaking up and being proactively anti-racist all along, and it shouldn’t have taken the death of another black man for us to do so. Evidently, this is wrong, but it would be worse to dwell on this and not do anything. It is easy to have an excuse for not speaking out – I have had many over the years. Partly, I have been silent because I have felt I didn’t have the correct language to speak about these issues, that I don’t know enough, but also because I’m white and have previously felt that I don’t have a right to speak about racial issues. These are all ones that come from self ignorance, I can now admit. But I am trying to be better and that’s what counts. Recognizing your ignorance (and excuses) is the first step forward.

Image: LA Times

Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on everything to do with race; how I understand it, how I act upon it and how I can become better at being actively anti-racist. I’m not writing this post and claiming I am perfect (I’m far from it) but I am working on it in the best way that I can. I accept that it isn’t just these few weeks that matter, but it is a lifelong effort that everyone, but particularly white people must take.

I don’t have a huge platform, but I do have one and this is enough. Something you share or post could influence just one person to think differently – but that is enough. Thus, I feel it is necessary to write this post. I deplore everybody to do everything in their capacity to be actively anti-racist; in their communities, online, in work places and in every day life. Being against racism is simply not enough – we have to do more.

Image: Gal-dem

Britain is far from perfect. Our Prime Minister has been silent on events in Minneapolis and refuses to condemn the actions taken that ended George Floyd’s life. It was only when he was criticised by the leader of the opposition, more than a week on, that he bumbled his way through addressing it. During his previous career as a journalist, he blatantly used racist, inflammatory language. This is just one example, “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” And lest not forget our monarchy has been built on systematic exploitation of other races, and the current Duke of Edinburgh (Price Philip, the Queen’s husband) has been outwardly racist his whole life.

Growing up in an almost exclusively white town

I went to schools that barely had any black, or people of colour in the classrooms – students were almost completely white as well as my teachers. During my whole compulsory education, from the age of 5-18, I was never taught about black history and the realities of British led imperialism and slavery, it was never on the curriculum. It was only when I went to university and studied history that I began to understand it. It shouldn’t have taken until this age for me to wake up to the white bias of our classroom curriculum’s, and society’s ongoing, sheer denial of British imperialism. But I fear if I hadn’t have gone to university to study history specifically, I would be far more naive. In part, there is a degree of personal responsibility here, but also, a fundamental national one.

Black history and the horror of British imperialism should be at the forefront of the history we are taught from a young age. Most fundamentally, because black history is British history. We are taught the unblemished version of events, and grow up believing it until we are challenged by it, or realise we need to challenge it ourselves. For some, this process never comes to light. Instead of memorializing the great British war efforts, achievements and sense of national pride that history curriculum’s celebrate – we should be taught the realities of Britain’s past and role in harboring racial inequality.

At university, I studied the history of America, the origins of racial discrimination, the growth of white supremacy, and how inequalities still plague the country of “freedom”. In my final year, my special subject was in “Development” which focused on how Western powers – particularly America and Britain, had exploited African countries from the nineteenth century all the way up to present day. In a way, since being at university I am far more knowledgeable from a historical point of view – however, regrettably I have failed to speak out about it. But I am recognising that. I want to be better and to educate myself even further, and I encourage everybody to do the same, if you are not already doing so.

Social media and #blm

Although I think the blackout trend on social media had good intentions, I believe it ended up silencing black voices and the important educational content that had been circulating. I noticed it was primarily being used by white people, who had not spoken out before. I feared it was being used as some form of social media bandwagon that white people could jump on to claim they had done something and been anti-racist. When many of them had perhaps not done the bare minimum which has a greater impact – like signing the George Floyd petition and donating to good causes.

Image: Variety

Social media is a good tool to spread educational content and have your voice heard – but the simple posting of a black square is not enough nor effective in my opinion. I didn’t engage in this – but instead, shared important educational resources and the links to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

Changing reading habits to elevate black voices, authors and POC

As someone who reads a lot and whose online presence is geared towards writing book reviews, I am going to make a real effort to diversify what I review.

I naturally float more towards fiction and in the past have read The Colour Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help and The Underground Railroad. But I admit this isn’t enough and is not good enough. I want to read more non-fiction about race, including Reni Eddo-Lodge’s, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. I acknowledge these are mere starting points and won’t be enough to simply diversify my reading habits, as this is a lifelong process – and one that I am going to be getting on board with starting. If anyone has any specific recommendations for books I should read, please let me know!

I have also made an effort to educate myself more with podcasts. I would recommend 1619, The New York Times podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones and About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge. I have also donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and signed the George Floyd petition – but I acknowledge that these actions are not a quick fix, the struggle is life long and I will always be doing what I can to speak out and educate myself. I haven’t documented this here to gloat about what I’ve done, but to encourage my readers to do the same and point them in the right direction.

Below I’m going to post a list of resources I have found helpful over the past weeks.

Useful resources

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ELEVATING BLACK VOICES✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 I have been following the situation in the US following the tragic murder of George Floyd. It disgusts me how someone can go to the shop to pick up a few things and never return home because of prejudiced actions against the colour of their skin. I don’t want to live in a world where people lose basic empathy based on physical difference. This is a crucial time to elevate black voices speaking out about their plight. As white allies we need to LISTEN and TAKE ACTION where we can and use our privilege to shield those who aren’t as privileged. That includes donating to charities and signing petitions like the ones I’ve shown here. ➖ Another thing that we should always be doing is reading the stories of black people that come from black authors. One of my university modules was African Literature and it showed me so many amazing novels that have had a profound impact on my reading. ➖ By casually incorporating black written novels, tv shows and films into our daily media consumption we become more empathetic and create space for more people to share their stories. We should support those who already have! This also goes for movies and tv shows which I have recommended too. ➖ I also wanted to include some stories that aren’t related to black struggles by black authors because there are so many that don’t get the same attention on here. ➖ We need to read up on the injustices created by white supremacy while they are so fresh on the news, and let black people know that their lives matter to us and we won’t idly stand by while they are killed by the people who are paid to defend them . #blacklivesmatter

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I am by no means perfect. Feel free to call me out if I’ve said anything wrong, or could have phrased things differently. I am very much still learning, but as always, I am open to starting conversations and helping each other. If you have any other good resources please comment them below!

I hope this honest insight from me may have helped at least one person re-assess their actions and words. Together we must always be fighting for black voices to be given the respect they deserve. This fight is ongoing and long term, and it goes beyond the realm of posting on social media. Education is lifelong but I’m sure you’ll all be joining me in this process. Thank you for reading.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

Angela Davis, author of Women, Race, and Class.