Holzer: Books are the Magic Pill

Books offer great comfort in these uncertain times.

by Emory Holzer | 5/21/20 2:00am

During a normal term, a Saturday night would bring a momentary respite from class work. In this remote term, this respite has become especially important amid the monotony of a virtual college experience. At home in the suburbs of Chicago, activities are few and far between. The weather here has turned from cold and snowy to cold and rainy, and in areas across the country that remain shut down, options for activity outside the home are often not available. 

Since the start of quarantining at home, however, I have found solace in reading. We need books now more than ever.  

One recent Saturday night, I pulled the copy of Stephen King’s “The Shining” off my bookshelf. 

The book begins with Jack Torrance, a former teacher, moving his family from Denver to become the caretaker of a remote mountain hotel during the offseason. As the book progresses, the familiar scenes take on a different tone. A family trapped alone for months with no outside interaction — this situation  no longer seemed foreign. The book’s dark plot depicting a father overcome by cabin fever draws grim parallels to the country’s current situation. But thankfully, none of us are stuck in a haunted hotel.

Breezing through the fast-paced horror in two days, I was quickly on to another old favorite: “Misery.” In a short time, my mid-teenage obsession with Stephen King was quickly rekindled. King’s stories have been the perfect escape from the pandemic. 

In quarantine, the days seem to melt together. Weeks are bound by an uninterrupted stream of work from courses that, as the term progresses, have only become more and more difficult to remain excited about. In a time of boredom and repetitiveness, good old-fashioned books provide a valuable service — essential breaks from the screen, nostalgic comfort and an escape from the present reality. 

The ideal quarantine novel falls somewhere on the spectrum of fiction between the aged hardcovers of Sanborn and the flimsy Hudson News paperbacks for sale next to the nuts and dried fruit. These blockbuster books are ones that have achieved simultaneous acclaim from critics and readers alike. They are light enough to feel like entertainment, a break from dense course readings, but heavy enough to feel meaningful. Turning the pages of a well-written story, readers fall into a world the author has created. But when a story is also gripping, the relentless newscycle fades into the background for a moment. 

When our only safe connection to the outside world — to classes, friends and family — is through the internet, it is easy to end up staring at the computer screen all day. In this digital term, I for one am taking any chance I can get to take my eyes off of a screen. The humble novel provides screen-free, long-lasting entertainment. 

And finally, with unknowns swirling around the immediate future, fall term and an eventual return to a new normal, a physical book provides reassurance. After all, there is nothing more nostalgic than curling up with a good novel — the process of reading for entertainment itself harkens back to times of leisure. Time for reading is a luxury that I lose in a normal Dartmouth term, and an online term has given me time to pursue this childhood pastime. 

In a scary time, I have found no greater solace than in the scary story, and one could do no better than the “King of Horror” himself: “Pet Sematary,” “Cujo” or “Carrie” — you really cannot go wrong. But any good book will do. Support a local bookstore, or dust off an old novel from your shelf. Pick something substantial and light, something that will provide hours of gripping entertainment. And hopefully, by the time we pull our heads up from some great novels, things will just maybe have started to take a turn for the better.