Reading in the grip of the coronavirus

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You’ve cleaned your closets, sorted your socks, binged on “Mad Men,” counted turkeys in your neighbor’s front yard, and now you are looking for something to read — something akin to comfort food for the soul.

If you are a reader who stockpiles books on the bedside table, you are one of the fortunate ones. Start digging in.

If you have a computer, there are literally hundreds of thousands of books, essays and collections available for free on the digital libraries of Gutenberg.org and Hathitrust.org

One avid reader friend of mine suggested returning to childhood classics such as “Little Women,” “Anne of Green Gables,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers.”

My friend  and I determined reading these books is a different experience as an adult. Here’s an edited version of our text conversation this past week.

“Old books do give an interesting perspective on a different era in health. Everyone knew people who fell ill or had died; they even knew children who had died,” she wrote. “Classic books remind us that we live in a pretty sanitized world,” she wrote.

Books sometimes have a way of resonating even 50 or 100 years later.

My friend texted me again, “Sometimes books help us cope. There was a deliberate effort to bring ‘Anne of Green Gables’ into Japan after World War II,” she wrote. “She was a plucky orphan who found a new family, and managed to thrive despite an awful childhood.”

“Parents and children can also read and discuss books like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and look for similarities in today’s world of sheltering in place. The characters in the book were stuck inside for weeks, grinding their own flour and burning twisted straw to keep warm,” she wrote.

The more adventurous might consider reading Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “The Last Man,” or Albert Camus’ “The Plague.” Both are chilling pandemic books, but my friend is looking for books that she calls “literary comfort food.”

She extols, “Rereading stories that you know will make you smile; that have a happy ending.”

To that end, she’s reading “Jane Eyre.” “I know it ends happily. Rereading ‘Little Women’ is like eating a big bowl of mac and cheese. It makes me feel like a kid-safe and protected by familiar people,” she wrote.

Most of these books are available free online.

Also search online for magazines and other resources that allow you to read their material free. I read a fabulous piece in Vanity Fair about the fairytale time for folk and rock music in Laurel Canyon, by writer Lisa Robinson.

You can also do Google searches for the following essays: “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” by Gay Talese, written in 1966 for Esquire Magazine, and “Jim Harrison, Mozart of the Prairie,” written for The New Yorker by editor Terry McDonell. Bookriot.com has 25 great essays by the likes of James Baldwin, Joan Didion, George Orwell, David Sedaris and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

If you have local library cards, you can also download free books through their online apps. Capital Area District Library and Delta Township Library use Libby, while East Lansing uses Cloudlibrary. Both systems allow downloading for reading online or offline, and provide access to audiobooks. Graphic books and picture books with audio read-along are also available. If you don’t have a library card, you can sign up online.

If you are interested in upgrading some of your skills, check out the online learning library Lynda. Libraries are closed across the state until at least until April 13.

Local best-seller author Lori Nelson Spielman has a new novel, “The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany,” due April 21, about a Cinderella-like love story set in Italy. “My lifesaver is Libby. All you have to do is link to your library card and the entire library is at your fingertip,” Spielman said.

“I’m partial to the audiobook feature, and find that I’m getting through so many more books. You can even adjust the reading speed, which is great if you’re impatient to reach the ending. I’ve got my earbuds in far too many hours of the day, and it drives my husband crazy,” she said.

This might also be the time to try to get through a daunting novel like “Ulysses,” by James Joyce.

And if you don’t think reading is important, check out the backdrop of the news’ experts on the cable news channels. Most of the time it involves books.

Resources for free digital books:

Gutenberg.org

Hathitrust.org

CADL’s OverDrive/Libby: cadl.org/overdrive

East Lansing Public Library’s Cloudlibrary: elpl.org/cloud-library

Libraries are closed across the state until at least until April 13

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