COVID-19 has allowed me to pick up the habit of reading again and I’m loving it. It’s strange, sometimes I would wonder how I spent my time after work pre-COVID. I then realized how much time I wasted doing…nothing? Or perhaps nothing meaningful, shall I say. I would maybe scroll mindlessly through my phone or watch short videos that don’t require much thought, and before you knew it, it would be time to sleep. The cycle repeats day after day till I’m numb toward my perception of time, and then there’d be the perfect excuse of “I don’t have enough time”.
Then COVID hit and all of a sudden I found myself in quarantine/lockdown with all the time in the world. There’s only so much on my phone that I could mindlessly scroll through before I’d go crazy, especially during COVID when the news is either about conspiracy theories or overly sentimental positivity that does nothing but exploit emotional vulnerability. So then I turned to books – physical, paper novels. I had made the resolution to read more since the end of 2019, and COVID just seemed to make that resolution easier to achieve. For a long time, I had forgotten what it felt like to be immersed in adventure through flipped pages, to be gripped by the rich emotions of imaginary figures, to be able to experience worlds I would never have otherwise even known of. I had forgotten what it was like to have to force myself to NOT start a new chapter in order to not sleep too late (last time was Count of Monte Cristo) or to anticipate the gleaming introduction of a new book. I loved reading – and I wanted to regain that love.
Books on the small shelf of my rented home – can’t wait to move into our own home soon and get a nice big bookcase!
I started buying books, most of them classics that have stood the test of time. Some I have been meaning to read for a while (like the Japanese work “Norwegian Wood”) but many were titles that I was discovering for the first time (like those from Honoré de Balzac). Of course, these were Chinese translations of the original works. I deliberately avoided English works for the moment because I prefer to read their original versions, which are rather hard to come by in Wuhan. That’s why most of the novels I’ve read so far were either Chinese originals or Japanese/French, translated into Chinese. (My French reading skills are only at the “Le Petit Prince” level so I won’t embarrass myself by attempting Balzac or Hugo in French…)
Regardless of depth or reading difficulty, there is something to be learned from each piece of literary work, whether superficial or profound. For example, “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami, while ruthlessly exposing the gravity of depression, made known to me two classic pieces of music, both named “Norwegian Wood” (English by The Beatles, Chinese by WuBai, and they have nothing to do with each other). “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera introduced me to the Prague Spring and Czech history. “The Sound of the Mountain” by Yasunari Kawabata (Nobel laureate) and “Paradise Lost” by Junichi Watanabe sparked my curiosity in the city of Kamakura in Japan, as it was the primary setting of the former and an important location in the plot of the latter. I’m currently reading “Notre-Dame de Paris” by Victor Hugo (a difficult read) and though I’ve never lived in Paris, my connection with France made me ponder about and want to explore the themes and motifs mentioned in the book (architecture vs. literature, piety vs. compassion, virtue vs. vice). (On a side note, I wonder how Hugo would have reacted if he found out about the fire at Notre-Dame last year.) As for “Dream of the Red Chamber” by Xueqin Cao…that’ll warrant its own essay, when I finish reading it in mid-June.