Of all the things that COVID Lockdown has changed, I didn't expect my love of readathons to be impacted. But it's not just dulled the anticipatory joy, it's erased it entirely.
For those who may not know what a readathon is, it's usually a set time (week or weekend) where people challenge themselves to read as many books as they can, in that limited time frame. People track their reading and the time spent in the endeavor, and it's been something I used to look forward to all year. Now, I am not going to speak for anyone other than myself here, but this is pretty much the extent of my "sportish" activities, even before the pandemic. I would get into the hype of prepping for it, and then the excitement of the race against the clock, even though I was just doing what I loved to do anyway.
I have tried a few different readathons over the years, but my favorite has been the "24 in 48" which allows flexibility in how you arrive to the end goal of reading for 24 hours in a 48 hour period, usually over a weekend. I love that you use a timer feature on your phone to capture and stitch together the moments to hit that 24 hour mark. (But I have made the rookie error of not taking a screenshot of each stopping time and accidentally resetting it after compiling 20 hours on the stopwatch. That was a very sad accident, so please learn from my mistake if you do take part in the event.) To me, as a grown adult with responsibilities, and an inability to pull all-nighters, this was an ideal approach.
In advance of the readathon, I loved spending time culling my shelves and visiting the library, and bookstores to gather a variety of reading materials. For a readathon, I would look for at least one or two 300-350 page books, a number of novellas, a few graphic novels and an audiobook or two to cue up. The strategy is to cycle through things quickly, so I would normally start with a novella or two to get some numbers in the completed tally, then start the full length book. When I needed to cook or run an errand, I would switch off to an audio book (could even be the same book just in audio format) and keep the stopwatch going. The graphic novels are there as a diversion when your eyes start to tire, or your mind wanders, as the type of reading is different and I have found that it gives my brain a reset. And I do not think twice about dumping a book that isn't flowing. I can come back to it in less tense conditions, if it's good but slowing me down.
The types of subject matter also is key for a readathon. Ideal works are quick reads, as opposed to books with complex structures or too many characters. Narrative nonfiction can be great if it's not too academic, which could slow your pace if you aren't used to it. I find readathons a delight for mind candy/ escapist reading. The whole point is to just have fun. If it's too sad, or too philosophical, it could trip you up. So it pays to be thoughtful about the types of books you are gathering.
I would also chart out my meals and errands- planning some restaurant visits with my book so I didn't have to waste time prepping, cooking and cleaning, but could instead just enjoy a good meal out with my book. I would try to plan some outdoor reading in a park or even just a different setting other than my favorite spot in the apartment, to make it special. I have even dreamt of going away for a weekend to a favorite hotel in Portland, Calistoga or Palm Springs to fully immerse myself in the joy of fully devoted reading time.
The goal for a readathon is numbers, as silly as it is. But this is a perfect opportunity to bust your TBR pile with those books that you know you would like to read, but something more important or timely gets in the way. And, it's just fun!
So why am I not feeling the same thrum of energy from the idea of readathons anymore? Clearly, I loved them. But my relationship to time and reading has changed so much during this past year. We have primarily stayed indoors this entire time, since last March. We live in a very populated place, in an apartment building with older folks, and we are both unwilling to risk going out and possibly being exposed. Therefore, everyday has been devoted to reading between the work hours. It's been a non-stop readathon, in some ways. There is no carving out special time for reading, as a novelty. The reading time is the primary means by which I have remained sane and grounded this year.
Now, of course I am not reading for the completion count in my everyday reading life, or racing to finish. Instead this past year has been about deepening my relationship to what I am reading, and tackling those books that have intimidated but intrigued me before now. One of the horrible joys of this pandemic is that it's global, so we readers are all in it together, and that has allowed me to read with some of my brilliant bookish friends that I have made through BookTube- like Leo, from A Little Book Life and Elisabeth, from Bookish North. We have read multiple books together, and given ourselves the time we may not have otherwise had to take it slowly. Reading Proust and Anita Brookner with Leo, and Woolf with Elisabeth, have been a true gifts. I don't know if I could have fit them into my life before the pandemic, to be honest. At least not in the way we have this year.
While I am sad to have lost my thrill for the readathons, I do look forward to a time in the future when we are out and about again in our daily lives, and when reading for a set time feels like the indulgent luxury that it used to be, rather than the necessity that it is currently. And I will mark it with a trip when the time comes! Let's get those vaccines as soon as possible and let the readathons be joyous again.
I'm curious- have you participated in readathons before, and if so, did you enjoy them? And how has your reading life changed because of the pandemic?