On days when we’re all looking to quiet the endless noise of the pandemic, some people turn to books for insight, solace and escape. Reading a good book can calm the mind and stave off the worries, at least for a while.  

Page Sullenberger of Orange describes herself as an avid reader who subscribes to six magazines and reads three or four newspapers every morning. She makes time for books as well. She typically goes to the beach every summer with a laundry basket full of books. She said it’s embarrassing to return them to the library “and shake sand all over the desk.”

Books she recommends to those looking to relax between the pages of a good read include “A Gentleman from Moscow” by Amor Towles and “anything by Louise Penny.”

In normal times, Sullenberger participates in a monthly book club whose members read a wide variety of contemporary fiction and nonfiction.

But these are not normal times. Like many people, she is reading more news than usual and sometimes finds it hard to muster the concentration that a book requires. Still, she finds solace in listening to books on Audible: “I love being read to. It goes back to my mother reading to me as a child. If I was ailing, she would sit by the bed and read to me daily until I was better.”

John and Gail Marshall of Rapidan also have been enjoying the pleasure of listening to books. In their case, they’ve been reading aloud to each other.

“One thing I miss a lot is travel so John and I have used this time to go on ‘read trips.’ Each morning after breakfast we read two chapters aloud. We look for books richly written to transport us to a new place and time and whose descriptions, especially when we read aloud, make us feel we are in that place and meeting local people,” Gail Marshall said.

Among the Marshalls’ recent selections are Alan Paton’s “Too Late the Phalarope,” set in South Africa, Carson McCullers’ “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” (small Georgia town in the 1930s); and Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” (New Mexico in the 1800s).

Elsewhere in Rapidan, Patrick Hand has been making good use of the strange lull that the pandemic has created.

“I've been doing more reading than usual,” he said. “I completed ‘Faster,’ nonfiction about a French Jewish race car driver in 1930s Europe before the war. Nazis and Grand Prix racing are a good combination. I started reading ‘Alien Oceans,’ written by my cousin Kevin Hand, a renowned astrophysicist, about the search for life on the moons of distant planets.”

Pam Jaske, another Rapidan resident, has taken a deep dive into American history.

“I’ve been reading ‘These Truths’ by Jill Lepore. It had been recommended by a friend in Cambridge [Mass.] and I was dubious at first because of its length, but honestly it’s the best history of the U.S. I’ve ever read,” she said. “It is readable and engaging and I’m hooked on it. … I’ve found it so insightful that I’ve sent copies to my daughters and a friend (accompanied by apologies for sending a book of such length).”

Caroline Marrs of Rapidan said her reading has taken a “reflective” turn during the pandemic.

“I just finished ‘The Story of a Goat’ by Perumal Murgun, which reminded me of ‘Animal Farm’ [by George Orwell] or ‘White Tiger’ [by Aravind Adiga]. It’s an adult book told by an orphan goat.

“I also finished ‘The Secret Life of Bees,’ which is a reread. I never read a book twice, but my son just finished it, so we had great conversations about it,” Marrs said.

She added that she’s begun reading “Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramahansa Yogananda, which she knows will be “a serious read. I’m looking for a less serious book as I always have two books going.”

In Montford, Betsy Brantley acknowledged that the pandemic has slowed things down so much for her that she feels oddly liberated: “I feel like I’m being given permission to read. I have to sit here and read this book.”

In general, she said of her reading tastes, “I like novels, and I usually like reading about grownups in turmoil and how they find solutions. I like books that you could kind of picture yourself in and think, ‘What would I do?’”

Among the books she’s enjoyed lately is “The Overstory” by Richard Powers.

“Wow, it blew my mind. It’s an ecological novel, and it’s a number of people’s stories. It describes how the changing environment affects different people. It’s totally fiction, but what it did for me was explain to me what an ecowarrior is and why. It gave me a real appreciation of a choice of what to stand up for—and that was before the coronavirus, our current battle.”

Rebecca Akers of Rhoadesville said she also has found more time to read in recent weeks.

“I have been trying to read as many books as I can before I start my master’s degree at Liberty University. During all of this, I have really enjoyed the book I am currently reading which is ‘My Brilliant Friend’ by Elena Ferrante. It was recommended to me by a former teacher a few months ago, and I finally got around to reading it.

“It is book one of four in the Neopolitan Novels series by Ferrante. It follows the life of Elena Greco, the main character, and her best friend, Lila, as they grow up and fall in love in a small town in Italy. I like the book because it is an engaging storyline, and I feel like I really resonate with the main character.”

Mike Garton of Gordonsville has been reading “Crucible” by James Rollins. He loves the author’s brainy, fast-paced style.

“Years ago, I was reading ‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown when I discovered James Rollins. I like thrillers and I find Rollins’ work fascinating. He incorporates history and modern technology and keeps the reader in suspense. I have read all his books, and although they typically have the same cast of characters, each book is unique. ‘The Crucible’ actually came out in 2019 and I should have read it by now (since his new book is on my desk).  I’m trying to take advantage of the lock-down to get caught up.”

Hilary Holladay covers education and politics for the Orange County Review. The author of five books, she is currently writing a biography of the poet Adrienne Rich.

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