Reading literature can give us a place to turn right now — and not just because it’s comforting. It’s because it helps us grapple with enormous ruptures in time.
There’s been much discussion of how much we need books right now, to comfort, distract, or console us from the pandemic and its toxic effects. I’m reading, too — Keats’s letters (that’s my kind of fun) and Rachel Cohen’s wonderful book “Austen Years” about her own life as a deep reader of Jane Austen. I’ve savored in spurts a couple of the many fine books of poems out this spring — among them, “After Callimachus,” by Stephanie Burt, which reimagines a campy version of a real but ancient Greek poet practically no one remembers, and “Spring and a Thousand Years (Unabridged)” by Judy Halebsky, where Halebsky imagines that she’s in a correspondence with the 8th century poet Li Po. This is to say: when I read, I escape — very, very far away. Eighth Century China seems excellent to me. So does Keats’s heath.