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Reading in 2020: Evasion or Reflection?

The pandemic has had many of us turning to new and familiar past times, as we consider what to do with all the time that we have spare- the time that we’d usually spend going out, seeing friends or travelling. While it sometimes seems that we’re just filling the gaps until the madness is all over, I wonder if there is anything we can learn from these changes. I myself have turned to reading. I was a massive bookworm as a teenager and my University degree mostly revolved around literature, so reading novels wasn’t exactly new to me. However, it was an activity that I’d lost since leaving University because I had been tied down by a fresh career and by the need to be sociable with friends and go out as much as possible. But there I was in Spring 2020: off work, bored and looking to make the most of my tiny but sunny garden.

Being cooped up inside wasn’t something that I enjoyed, and I couldn’t always amass the energy to go walking all day. On my book shelf I saw I had Du Maurier’s Rebecca and the latter half of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair to complete- books I’d been given for previous birthdays and Christmases but had tossed aside during my busy life. Sitting tranquilly outside and enjoying the quiet felt very unfamiliar; but once I got used to it, it gave me a feeling of peace and harmony that I had been lacking. I wondered how many other people must be sat silently reading like me or regaining a hobby that they’d lost before lockdown. I wondered if reading fiction was only a temporary sanctuary; but I hoped that it would continue past the pandemic. The whirlwind suspense of Rebecca and the comical and satirical tone of Vanity Fair’s narrator were great sources of distraction to me and I felt transported somewhere else. But it was when I read Gale’s work that I realised that reading fiction in a pandemic isn’t a mere evasion.

Take Nothing with You is about a young cellist entering the music world and discovering himself through his artistic experiences. I am a cellist myself and used to play in all kinds of ensembles, so this book brought back a lot of memories for me. Reading about the orchestra residentials, master classes and instrument shopping made me think of many moments in my past that I’d enjoyed but forgotten over the years. At first, I felt a sad kind of nostalgia but then it made me consider what was important to me, what really made me happy and what I wanted to get out of life once the pandemic was over.

As the weather takes a turn, you may find me wrapped up by the fire reading a Christmas novel as I try to get my myself in the mood for the festive season. I am hoping to broaden my horizons beyond the novel and take a look at some poetry or theatre. There remains a heap of discarded books in my bedroom and, now that I am glad to have regained a lost hobby, I look forward to opening these up. I used to think of literature as a creative depiction of the outside world and a revelation of who people really are and how they behave. At the start of lockdown, I saw it as a means of escape. At present, I understand literature to be an opportunity for self-reflection. I suppose not just literature, but the act of reading itself and as artists, I think it is a pleasure to discover books that make us think about our experiences within the arts. The interlocutor of Rebecca finishes the novel by telling us that she will learn from her negative experiences as a shy young person to become a more confident and resilient person.

Like many of us, I had a difficult 2020 and, when I think about this book, it gives me a feeling of hope.

Patrick studied French at Oxford, having graduated last year, and is a big supporter of the Arts. He is a keen cellist, theatre goer, and volunteers at a museum in his spare time. He is one of our amazing team of volunteers, working as an Arts Administrator and PA to the CTO .

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