Rescue reading for troubled times

Suggested reading for when you can’t concentrate on anything.

Who can read a book right now? It’s so hard to concentrate on anything or get anything done. It’s hard to scan beyond restrictions and stats of infections, hospitalisations and deaths, a daily loop with minor variations.

And reading, which used to be a joy, seems like hard work for a concentration span which has been whittled by anxiety and circumstance. Also, hard work for tired eyes that stare at screens too many hours a day.

But there is still comfort, solace and reassurance to be found in the written word. There’s a quietness there for your mind to melt into that you won’t get from streaming a series or trawling a feed. There’s food for your soul.

So here are my reading rescue suggestions. Firstly, I’m suggesting paper as something tactile and familiar and to delineate it from the screens of our working days. Secondly, I’m suggesting short forms. The idea is to replenish those ravaged inner reserves any way we can.

Short stories

The right short story can take you away and deliver you back, (perhaps even slightly changed) in the time it takes to drink a cup of tea. Feel the satisfaction of starting and finishing something. Feel the relief of genuine distraction and the space to make your own connection with what’s on the page. I’ll be posting a series of suggested anthologies to read over the next weeks.


Something else which can be enjoyed in short bursts and picked up and put down again for intervals. Don’t make it hard for yourself. Pick up what you have on the shelf, what you know from studying at school, or something that’s been recommended.

An old favourite

Take a favourite book from your shelf, one that feels like a best friend and is therefore no effort at all, despite the time between sittings. Read it at whatever pace you want because you know what’s coming anyway. Abandon without any hard feelings. Sometimes it’s just nice to re-connect with familiar words.

Old diaries and letters

Pick out an entry/letterl at random. You probably won’t remember anything that’s mentioned. You may be impressed by your turn of phrase or kind of mortified. If you’re like me, you’ll often be left feeling sad about the passing of time and for your former self without knowing exactly why. But look at that, half an hour just passed and you were somewhere else altogether.


Collections of letters, diaries or essays are all great for their pick-up and put-downability. They also offer diversity in subjects and styles, so you get the feeling of reading widely even though it’s all from the same source.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be posting suggested anthologies and collections for short reading. Keep an eye out on Twitter @ninakcullen or subscribe to my newsletter below for updates.  

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