As the world reopens, one person can only read so much

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I used to feel insulted when my impassioned recommendation for “the best book ever” was met with “Honestly, I don’t have time for another one.”

“How could anyone let this pass?” I was wondering.

Now, emerging (hopefully) from the pandemic to endemic life, I get it. I zoomed in on so many online study groups, reading groups, and reconnect groups that I had to buy a special reading tower to hold any assigned or recommended volumes.

There’s a shelf for the book group’s novel of the day and future recommended ones, another for voluminous social justice tomes with associated PDFs, and yet another for all the volumes on how to age well – each shelf being inspired by one or more online groups.

A few dozen women in my college class, Zooming in once a month, produced enough book and hobby recommendations to fill a century. Back in the dorm, I mostly remember studying, dating, and playing bridge, but these women have since filled their days with intellectual and artistic pursuits so dignified that I oscillate between pangs of guilt and laziness.

The women who used to meet in person every month – with international potlucks – to support women’s micro-enterprises almost always met online without food for two years and – yes – invariably turned to book recommendations.

Law of balancing: Routines establish patterns that “robots” can follow

The aging masters women, meeting mostly online twice a month, dutifully read a book every month or so about brain science, exercise and joy and challenged themselves to be responsible for doing everything what the author of the month recommended – anything from drinking more water to immersing ourselves in cold showers.

Do not mistake yourself. I love to read and be informed and inspired and in addition to what my friends are talking about. But to be honest, my zeal for knowledge was much keener back when the monthly reading group was rewarded with hors d’oeuvres and dessert that matched the plot or setting of the book, and I am delighted to return to all the accompanying snacks.

When the book group got together the other night to discuss “Little Fires Everywhere,” I was thrilled to bring some homemade tangy fudge sauce as a nod to Shaker Heights ice cream shop just around the corner from the main character’s house.

While online groups had some ingenious ideas — bring your own cocktail or have it delivered with a charcuterie platter for one — it just wasn’t the same.

But now, in the current moment, there is also a transition to be reckoned with – the shift from the time of lockdowns to the seemingly pleasant reality that we can be together again, which involves both getting dressed and travel. There’s no unlimited time to read books in a group or watch movies, videos, and podcasts that others have recommended. It takes a while to make the Haitian Fudge Sauce and Makawona Au Graten.

Yet the recommendations for books, movies, and podcasts and the guilt of not following them keep pouring in — if not from in-person meetings, then from the inbox, with tantalizing headlines like “Opportunity to make a difference.” and “Zoom link – Moonsong. Something has to give, and I’m having a hard time figuring out what.

After all, in the empty moments, while cooking dinner or doing the laundry or exercising, I now have a whole pandemic library to draw on.

I have a lot to learn about Dallas Cowboys cheerleading or the origins of cancel culture.

“I could listen to a podcast! Or an audiobook! Or watch a video! I tell myself and promise to put all the links in a handy folder somewhere so I can immediately and effortlessly make every moment count.

But somehow, I never do that. Or maybe, like I’m just folding leaves or making the tacos in silence, I do.

Balancing Act author Pat Snyder is a Beechwold resident and life balance speaker and coach. Read his work on patsnyderonline.com.

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