A Novel Idea: Get Lost in a Book to Escape Feeling Locked Away

Let the COVID-19 reading challenge spirit you away into far flung adventures between the covers of a book

It’s time to get lost

Do you remember the first time you fell through the pages of a book? With the coronavirus “hunker down orders” giving everyone cabin fever, it’s the perfect time to rediscover that feeling.

There’s nothing quite like falling through the pages of a good book and into a completely different landscape. The stress of being alone or cooped up together requires a new strategy, and the answer could be as close as your bookshelf.

Once you’ve made up your mind to use this time to feed your inner bookworm, call up your friends and ask them to commit to reading their own COVID-19, as in nineteen books.

You can explain your new found bibliophilia as professional development. One of the problems of our technology assisted existence is that attention spans have been decreasing. The good news is that it’s reversible. Reading books is one of the best ways to counter the damage.

The more you read, the stronger the effect. This has positive effects in other areas of life, especially your career. Reading long fiction is amazing at pushing back the attention boundaries to their proper place.

Feel your progress with real books

So let’s get reading. Where to start? Many of us prefer the heft and scent of holding an actual book in our hands. If you are a book lover, you’ve probably already got a shelf of ignored books from your pre-virus life that have sat neglected since you brought them home. There may be a few on your night stand, too. Now is the time to dust them off and take inventory.

If nothing there sparks your interest, most of us would normally head to the library, but most libraries are closed for now because of social distancing measures, and they haven’t yet figured out how to get books into patrons hands through delivery services such as Grubhub and UberEats for restaurants. Maybe someone will come up with an ÜberReads solution.

But for now, we have to get creative. Another possibility is that you could exercise your way down to a Little Free Library. The link above contains a map you can use to find those closest to you. If you aren’t familiar with LFL, people sign up to host protected book cabinets in their yards where anyone can take or leave a book.

You should take the book back when you’re finished with it, or replace it with one of your own. If you want to “pay it forward” once we’ve weathered the coronavirus storm, consider hosting a little free library of your own.

Support independent booksellers

Another way to get your fix while supporting businesses during these economically bleak days is to buy used books from small online bookstores. They’re not hard to find. Most people think of Amazon when they think of purchasing a book online, but you don’t have to buy it new.

Beneath the main listing there are almost always links to used copies, some of them for pennies on the dollar. Most of my online book purchases are from these links. The other major booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million also link to used copies through their sales pages.

Get on the eBook bandwagon

If you’re not wedded to the idea of reading paper books, a vast world of content is available to you for free or very low cost.

While your library may be closed, their web presence is alive and thriving. If you have a library card, you’re in luck. You can easily check out electronic versions of the books they carry on their shelves, as well as scads of other digital content.

Though agreements have until now prevented libraries from allowing patrons to check out more than one electronic copy of a book at a time, that recently changed. Whether it ends up being considered providence or piracy, right now it’s priceless. That’s everything from Jane Austen to Delia Owens.

Get your free books here

Spreading the net further into the digital water, let’s talk about the many websites that host free or low cost content. They offer books in a variety of digital formats, from PDF (the black sheep of the eBook family), text files, MOBI (Amazon Kindles use it), and EPUB (non-Kindle eBook readers use it). Here’s a short list to get you started:

Google Books
Project Gutenberg
The Open Library
The Internet Archive

If you want to purchase a device to read your books on, the most popular are offered by Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), and Rakuten (Kobo). Each company provides information on their websites explaining how to upload book files to the device. Keep in mind that each have apps you can download to your computer or mobile device, saving you money.

The Google Book Project

Over the past decade, Google has been sending digital archivists into the U.S.’s largest libraries, cataloguing works in the public domain, and makes them available free of charge as “Free Google eBooks.”

To find them, once you get to the Google Books page, there is a trick to get you to the free content. I’ve demystified the process for you below.

On the main page, type anything into the search bar, and press enter.

Once there, you’ll see several entries with two rows of dropdown menus above them. Click on “Any books” and then scroll down to “Free Google eBooks.”

Once you’re on the Free Google eBooks page, the only entries will be for… you guessed it, free books. You can read the books right there on your device, or you can click on the dropdown menu on the far right and scroll down to your favorite option. I like to download them as EPUB files.

Another bonus of the free Google eBooks are that they include the original artwork and illustrations. This is particularly enchanting with many of the early children’s books produced during the golden age of literacy featuring art from many of the most revered artists of the day. Which leads me to…

Don’t forget the kids

There are few things as satisfying as reading to a child who’s snuggled into your lap, or watching an older child quietly lost in a paperback adventure. If you have children in the house with you, or even if you discovered later in life that your childhood was book deprived, now may be the time to go to the free digital fountain and drink deep of the fantastic children’s literature available.

Some of the best children’s books ever written were produced during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the American continent was being discovered and explored. School children, who back then learned their lessons in one-room schoolhouses, devoured these books and talked about them on the playground, even acting out their favorite scenes.

The same way we watch the episodes of our favorite TV shows and text our friends about them. Most of the books are now in the public domain, and as mentioned earlier, are available for free from Google. If you don’t have any idea who these authors are, the titles, or what age range they’re appropriate for, here’s a sharable link to my free spreadsheet listing all of them:

While most of the familiar tales are what might be considered the Western Canon, other cultures have their own catalogue of children’s literature, poetry, tales, and stories, and many of these are also available free from Google.

If we gain nothing else from hunkering down while the coronavirus runs its course, I wish you many leisurely hours safely tucked away between the pages of your favorite book.

Maybe we’ll all gain a few pounds from sitting around reading or being read to, but I won’t tell anyone. A few pounds gained among friends is an innocent thing.

Jim Garlits is an author, editor, and freelance writer who wears prose colored glasses while disappearing into thick historical novels, such as Caleb Carr’s “The Alienist.”

Wearing prose colored glasses. https://jimgarlits.com

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