And I Thought I Was the Only One Having Trouble Reading During the Pandemic

The conditions seemed ideal. Extra time on my hands, and a set of books I received from my family members on my birthday.

I had plans to do lots of reading, but for whatever reason, I was having trouble getting through the books. I felt like I had lost my motivation to read.

And then lo and behold, a story in today’s Wall Street Journal offers a bit of explanation and some suggestions as to how to get back into the reading habit.

In 2020, the NPD Group recorded the best year of book sales since it began tracking comparable data in 2004. Yet even as people are buying more books, many are reporting they’re having a harder time getting through them. A study of British reading habits during the pandemic conducted this summer by researchers at Aston University in Birmingham, U.K., found that while people were reading more—citing more time to read, a desire to distract themselves, and more time spent reading with children—they were reading more slowly. Many of the survey’s 860 participants said they were distracted, and that this lack of concentration was making it harder to progress, according to Abigail Boucher, a researcher on the study and a lecturer in English Literature at the university.

That last part seemed to apply directly to me. I was thoroughly enjoying a book I was reading, but it was taking much longer than it should have to complete.

Reporter Elizabeth Bernstein suggests that it’s difficult for your brain to focus on a book when it’s constantly scanning for threats so it can keep you alive. That’s exactly what’s been happening to most of us since March—our fight-or-flight response has been consistently activated.

She then offers the following suggestions on how to get back into your reading habit:


Start short! choose an engaging short story, maybe by a favorite author, and allow yourself to get immersed.

Read something relevant. If the topic is relevant to your life or current events, it’s also more likely to hold your attention.

Return to something familiar. find an old favorite book to read again

Make reading a habit. Pick a favorite spot. Brew some tea. Read at the same time each day.

Go inward. Look for “quieter,” more introspective books, such as memoirs, books on mindfulness, and poetry.

Read the way you did as a kid—sprawled on a bed, on your back on the floor, under the covers with a flashlight. (the reporter used to read in her closet.) Maybe I need to go sit in my car

Read first thing in the morning. I don’t think I could do this; I would be stressing about not getting ready for the day ahead.

Try listening. Consider an audiobook. You can multitask, turning one on while you’re driving, exercising, or doing chores. I just don’t think audiobooks are for me; I don’t think I would be able to fully concentrate and would worry that I missed a key passage or two.

Put down the book if you’re not getting into it. Life is stressful and unpleasant in many ways right now. Reading shouldn’t be one of them.

Start a new book as soon as you finish the previous one.

72 thoughts on “And I Thought I Was the Only One Having Trouble Reading During the Pandemic

  1. I would have guessed that you were spending your extra time writing blogs. And perhaps reading blogs. Personally, I am reading slower but enjoying my books more. It’s nice to spend more time with a good book. Especially if it is well written.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not much of a reader, anyway, and I don’t think the pandemic has resulted in reading any more or less. But I have, for some reason, found myself reading more blather over the past year.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Interesting! As an avid reader, nothing really stops me from reading. 🙂
    I will agree though about not reading as fast as usual, so being distracted by the pandemic makes sense.
    I still urge you to give audio books a try. You may be surprised! And hey your experiment could be a blog post. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve read more books in the last year than probably ever before. I know part of that is related to being retired and trying to find something productive during the pandemic when so many of my other normal options have gone out the window. What works for me is to establish a routine and stick with it. I like to read right before bed. I have trouble falling asleep, but this pattern works best for me.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I am guessing that another reason for the increase in the number of books you read is wanting to understand the craft of writing better, since you are now an author and you have talked about your desire to get better as a writer. Most times when I try to read at night, I fall asleep after just a couple of pages… That’s good for sleeping, bad for getting through a book…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Caught me there. I’m reading books a whole different way these days. I pay much more attention to the structure, story arc, and all of the things that make a story work or not work. I still try to read for enjoyment, but I am paying far more attention to the craft. Writing fiction is a whole different ballgame working out a 60,000-word story from beginning to end that makes sense.

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      2. I guess that could go either way; you may enjoy a book even more when you learn to appreciate how the author crafted the novel, or thinking too much about such things might cause you to lose the flow of the book itself. Can’t wait to read your new book!

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  5. The theory on why we may be reading slower seems tenable. We all still have a lot of concerns and thoughts spinning through our heads during this pandemic. All of the suggestions seem reasonable, but you would need to find what works for you. I am assuming that the books you are currently reading are non-fiction. Something that you want to walk away from remembering some of what you read. I think fiction would be easier to get lost in as you are not consciously trying to retain information when you are reading it. This sounds like another opportunity for some grant money. Say a study into the effects of tropical locale and weather on reading speed?

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    1. Brad, your insights are right on target once again.

      I did eventually finish that one book, which was a non-fiction, and the next one was a fiction, which I did move through much more quickly.

      And I like that research idea, as long as it requires field research… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I find it hard to read more than one book at a time, and have only done it a handful of times. But yes, working my way through a book is quite the enjoyable experience, no matter how long it takes…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There’s some good advice in there, Jim. I must tell you that I’ve been reading, well listening to, Alfie Kohn. I think you mentioned him a while ago, then I mentioned what you’d shared in a post, and someone commented on that … and so it went. So I listened to Punished by Rewards first, narrated by Alfie and loved it. Now I’m listening to Unconditional Parenting, also narrated by Alfie and love it too. Thank you so much for leading me to him. I love his work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My wife is the one who told me about Alfie, as she is an educator as well. I have only read Punished by Rewards; sounds like I need to read some more of his work! I”m glad you have enjoyed his books…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is exactly the answer I need on why I haven’t been able to read in the past year. This year is starting to look like last year, too. Knowing the problem and how to deal with it might just be what the doctor ordered. Thanks!

    So… short stories, it is, then!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I also have loads of unread books to get through, but seem to spend more time on blogs, music, games and tv instead. Maybe that’s the pandemic, or maybe it’s just that as I get older I have the attention span of a retarded amoeba. Good to see the uni that my daughter lectures at being featured, tho 👍

    Liked by 2 people

    1. or it could be that as you get older, you clearly realize where your interests are, and you spend your time on those items. And I take it your daughter is at Aston University? What does she teach?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A very generous assessment! I really should read more books, though.

        Yes, she’s a Senior Lecturer in Sociology, with a particular specialism in gender issues. I’m very proud of her: she’ll be 35 next month and already has a book of her own out, and a couple of co-edited ones. She lives in London but has been spared the commute to Birmingham during the pandemic: teaching via Zoom, without the need to arrange chairs 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. wow – I can see why you would be proud of your daughter, that is quite an impressive track record at such a young age. How long a commute would it be to Birmingham? And not only does she not have to rearrange the chairs 🙂 she is probably saving a decent amount on commuting costs…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you! The commute can take up to two hours, depending on whether she drives or goes by train. In normal times they usually manage to schedule her teaching and other commitments into three days so she can work from home for the others. The saving is a side benefit from the pandemic!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. They’ve been good to her with scheduling, even before the pandemic. Confirming her Senior Lectureship just before she went on maternity leave was a sign they want to keep her!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks Jim for sharing. I know my motivation to read has slipped in the past few weeks. The pandemic continues to grind away, and the gloomy Ohio winter skies always show up in dismal gray.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Amazing and informative post! I totally relate, this is me! I used to be such an avid reader but now it’s hard for me to even get through a magazine article! I want the distraction but I want Instant gratification at the same time! Ugh! I need to try some of these tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great article Jim. This pandemic has wreaked havoc on everything for so many and book writing for many authors, and yes, reading. Attention spans wonder and wander as we all wade our way to some normalcy. 🙂 And you’re right, don’t waste time on an unsatisfactory book. Move along. Keep reading.

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