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Rediscovering reading in 2020

How reconnecting with my hobbies has made this year tolerable

<p>Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.</p>

Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

After weeks upon weeks of social distancing, staying indoors and taking necessary safety precautions, I think every person alive has come to the same, nagging question — what am I supposed to do now?

The obvious answer for students would be "schoolwork." And sure, the ever-growing list of assignments, lectures and exams is more than enough to keep anyone busy, especially as we delve deeper into the fall semester. But when all the homework has been submitted, lecture notes have been taken and exams have been prepped for, what then?

I was plagued by this question. It's quite possible that I spent more time pondering over what to do than actually doing anything. As the news grows more dire with each passing day, it seemed like nothing I could think of was enough to distract me from the anxiety that comes hand-in-hand with an unprecedented modern pandemic. So, I did something I hadn't found the time and energy to do in ages — I picked up a book.

I'd be the first to tell you how much of an avid reader I was as a child. Looking back on it, my fascination with reading wasn't even remotely surprising. Loving books is just another one of those personality traits you develop when you're a shy kid with nothing better to do — and I happened to check off all the boxes. Needless to say, from my very first novel, I was hooked.

As a child, I did more than just read books — I devoured them. My favorite time of year was the Scholastic Book Fair at my elementary school. I have fond memories of whizzing from table to table, counting my wrinkled dollar bills and hoping I would have enough to buy the stack of books I had accumulated over the past hour. When I wasn't at a bookstore or taken to a book fair, I was spending my time at the school library, skimming the aisles for an eye-catching title or cover. I'd be willing to bet that I spent more time in that elementary school library than in Clem or any of the other University libraries combined.

For me, books were an escape, a way to get a glimpse at worlds that existed beyond my own life. The experience of getting to know new characters and following new storylines was downright addicting. Even today, I can see the influence my fiction interests have had on me today. The “Percy Jackson” books inspired my love of mythology. “Coraline” introduced me to the horror genre, which still remains one of my guiltiest pleasures. Crying over books like “Marley and Me” and “The Art of Racing in the Rain” even inspired my childhood obsession with dogs, which later resulted in my family adopting one of our own.

As the years passed and schoolwork consumed more and more of my time, however, I found myself slipping away from reading. At the same time, my own tastes in fiction began to develop and mature. I drifted from modern fiction and found that I enjoyed classical literature far more. Suddenly, I was sifting through "1984," "Don Quixote" and "Siddhartha," books that gave me new insights on my own beliefs about everyday life and in some cases challenged my worldview. An unintended consequence of this change was that these books took considerably longer to finish. When I made the decision to read a book, it was accompanied by the knowledge that I was dedicating a good chunk of my precious free time to this task. Books were no longer fun ways to pass the time — they were month-long commitments I felt an obligation to see through to the end.

Perhaps that's why I found myself prioritizing procrastination over reading — as well as my other more time-consuming hobbies. Rather than read 100 pages of a novel, I would spend an hour browsing through Netflix. Instead of sitting down to write a few paragraphs of a short story, I would use that time to go on Twitter. I even strayed away from my musical interests and wasted it on lounging around doing nothing. Most of my days felt monotonous, even entirely worthless. I was actively avoiding doing what I loved simply because I felt it was too draining to bother. In the process, I had lost sight of what gave me personal fulfillment.

Now, when the pandemic has made life more difficult and the days have gotten more empty than ever before, I've begun to reminisce on the things I once enjoyed doing. I remember hardly being able to contain my excitement while reading, flipping through pages with bated breath. A part of me missed that, now more than ever. And what better time to immerse yourself in a new world than 2020, when the real world is in shambles? In an odd way, the pandemic has allowed me to engage more fully in my previous hobbies. I've had the chance to read, write and even complete some audio engineering and musical work on the side — after my classes, of course. In some ways, I've been more productive this year than I ever have been, in terms of my own mental health and happiness.

Of course, given the strange and stressful times we live in, it's perfectly okay if people weren't or still haven't been productive while social distancing — a person's worth should never be determined by the things they've done. Just making it through the year so far is more than enough. Whether you've been coping by hyper-fixating on hobbies — like I have — or you haven’t been able to do anything besides basic survival, take some time to acknowledge that you've done the best you can, and that's enough. If you're able and willing, though, I recommend trying out something new or even retrying something old. The best thing we can do for ourselves right now is take our minds off the chaos of our collective existence, even if only for a few minutes.

Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at