A couple of weeks ago someone asked me how I was managing with the lockdown.
“I feel a bit guilty for saying this because I know a lot of people are struggling,” I replied. “But it’s not that different from life before lockdown so I’m doing OK.”
The person was surprised, but the truth is that life with chronic illness is full of cancelled plans, postponed holidays and staying at home. It’s almost as though the last 20 years have been preparing me for the spring of 2020.
Who knew chronic illness would become my resilience, my super power?
Of course I miss things – I miss getting my nails done on a Friday after work, I miss going to see my dad and brother, I miss the occasional Saturday lunch out – and of course I understand why people are surprised by the fact that lockdown is similar to my normal life. Because on the surface I don’t look ill, and until 20 March this year I’d spent the past 11 months going into an office five days a week. But if lockdown has taught me anything it’s that going into an office every day has been hugely detrimental to my health and it’s not even necessary – turns out all those meetings could have been emails, turns out after all these years of asking, I could have worked from home after all. I will of course be addressing these things with my HR department once talk of returning to the office begins.
But what has all of this got to do with Kindle and Audible?
The surprise reaction when I said that lockdown was not that different from normal reminded me of another conversation I had a couple of years ago with a fellow writer when my first book came out (my first book has only ever been available in ebook).
“But when will it be published as a real book?” they asked.
“It is a real book,” I replied.
The other writer laughed. “You know what I mean,” they said.
When will it come out in paperback? Never, and that’s OK with me.
I’ve come across this attitude a lot over the three years since I first got published – this idea that a book made of paper is somehow more real, more tangible than an ebook or an audiobook. But this attitude ignores accessiblity – and I get it, of course I do. But digital publishing has changed my life and not just because it’s how I first got published myself.
It’s changed my reading life too.
I have M.E., Fibromyalgia and chronic migraine (and yes, I still go to work – my neurologist once told me that chronically ill people who are able to work outside the home, often take less sick days than “normal” people. I suspect this has something to do with guilt, but that’s another blog post for another day).
I am in pain a lot, but because of digital publishing I am still able to partake in my most favourite of distractions – reading!
I have a lot of joint and muscle pain and sometimes even holding a paperback open can hurt, especially after a day at work. But thanks to my e-reader I can still read without having to hold anything, it just rests in my lap.
When my head hurts and I can’t keep my eyes open anymore I can “read” my latest Audible download and allow the story to take me away and take my mind off my pain. It’s been the most amazing discovery!
Books made of paper are beautiful, they feel nice to hold, they have a reassuring weight and a familiar smell – but whether we read on paper, digitally or via our headphones we are still taking part in the same story, still being transported by the power of words, still escaping together.
It doesn’t matter a hoot to me how you consume books, it doesn’t matter to me if you don’t read at all (although as this is a blog about writing and books I’m guessing you have some interest!). What matters is kindness and empathy. When we dismiss digital reading as somehow “inferior” we are dismissing the incredible accessibility (on many more levels than those I have written about today) that digital publishing has opened up.