What to Read When You Can’t Focus

“I can’t read. I can’t concentrate.”

“I’m having trouble reading.”

“All I can read are news stories.”

Nearly everyone I know is having trouble focusing. I’ve found myself reading the same sentence over and over, without remembering what I just read. Maybe now is not the time for long, plot-heavy books. Maybe now is the time to explore the world of poetry. Here’s a poem I discovered today that a friend posted on Facebook:

Here in the Time Between

Here in the time between snow
and the bud of the rhododendron,
we watch the robins, look into

the gray, and narrow our view
to the patches of wild grasses
coming green. The pile of ashes

in the fireplace, haphazard sticks
on the paths and gardens, leaves
tangled in the ivy and periwinkle

lie in wait against our will. This
drawing near of renewal, of stems
and blossoms, the hesitant return

of the anarchy of mud and seed
says not yet to the blood’s crawl.
When the deer along the stream

look back at us, we know again
we have left them. We pull
a blanket over us when we sleep.

As if living in a prayer, we say
amen to the late arrival of red,
the stun of green, the muted yellow

at the end of every twig. We will
lift up our eyes unto the trees hoping
to discover a gnarled nest within

the branches’ negative space. And
we will watch for a fox sparrow
rustling in the dead leaves underneath.

-Jack Ridl

827F05A7-C2A6-444E-B3F5-5B4953041C70_4_5005_cLike so many others, I’m having a hard time concentrating on literary novels. I started Colum McCann’s Apeirogon last week and it’s wonderful. I’m in awe of the way, in all of his novels, he takes disparate threads and weaves them into a cohesive whole. Apeirogon (which means “generalized polygon with a countably infinite number of sides — got that?) tells the story of two men, one Israeli, one Palestinian, who become friends after they each lose a daughter to senseless violence. It’s a book to savor and admire — but I keep reading a few pages and putting it down, scrolling through news stories on my phone.

47375B86-7326-4819-AD8E-45AE919043D2_4_5005_cThanks to a great recommendation from my friend Di, I found a book that lured me away from the news. I flew through Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (As Told to Me) Story by TV comedy writer Bess Kalb in one day. I tend to take blurbs with a grain of salt, but in this case they were accurate — the book really did make me laugh and cry. Kalb has written a poignant memoir about her late grandmother, using voicemails and emails she saved over the years to recreate the story of their relationship, written in the voice of her beloved “Bobby”.  You’ll find yourself underlining your favorite parts, and there will be many.

Here in Illinois, as in many other states, bookstores are closed because they’re not considered “essential” businesses. (It’s interesting that we’re still permitted to go load our carts at liquor stores.) Nancy Bass Wyden, third generation owner of the iconic Strand Bookstore in New York, has appealed to the state for designation as an essential business so the store can begin fulfilling online orders.  Many independent bookstores, including Lake Forest Book Store, can take orders online that will be shipped directly from Ingram, their largest book distributor.

Until your new books arrive, try a book that’s been languishing on your shelf. Exchange books with friends and neighbors. Stop by the nearest Little Free Library. (I guess you have to disinfect the books you lend and borrow.) Listen to audiobooks and short story podcasts. And make sure to read a poem every day.






Housebound Hit List

 . . . These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.
Roald Dahl

We read to know that we are not alone.
C.S. Lewis

Apparently my wish came true . . .

We’re all housebound now. In the past, I loved those days, few and far between, when for one reason or another (a snowstorm or a sore throat), I got to stay home and curl up on the couch with a good book. Now, faced with an endless number of days at home, I’m trying to think of this time as the perfect opportunity to read as much as possible. Read more