some thoughts on reading and writing in crisis

by Jane McArthur, 24 April 2020.


reading and writing are constants no matter the circumstances. Even without access to a book the memory of a particular text and the circumstances in which it was read offer a place for thought


writing offers a space for




a means of marshalling thought as opposed to being at the mercy of the whims of a busy mind


reading offers solace, connections, companionship, a place of refuge, a place of silence, but not of loneliness, for there is always the voice of the writer to speak to us the reader


returning to an old favourite is to be reassured, to seek sanctuary with a familiar voice, to restore a scattered mind


to write is to shift into another place

to read is be open to possibility

both occupy mind and body, offering a distancing from immediate pressures. This is not to deny the difficulties of a current situation, but in finding this place of thought, experiences, different viewpoints, there is an opportunity to return to the immediate environment with an altered perspective, a shift in how we experience the world and how it is portrayed back to us


The soul needs books like the body needs food


In 2015 in a suburb of Daraya, Syria a library was created amidst the ruins and the barrel bombs, the physical and mental destruction of the city and its citizens. Anas and his friends collected books found in bombed out buildings for their underground library which they housed in the most devastated part of the city, reasoning that so much had been destroyed already their library would be as safe as it could be there for the bombing targets had moved on.


Managed by fourteen-year-old Amjad, book clubs and lectures were held in the library as well as being open for people to borrow books. When asked why create a library? the translated replies were:

We want to be a free nation – hopefully by reading we can achieve this.


We need to have our minds on other things to survive.


If we survive what would we be surviving for? Books give us hope in the future and a reason to survive. Without these some of us would leave or not care whether we survive or not.1

to hold a book is to make connections

to write thoughtfully and meaningfully is to contribute


to actively read and to write is


a seeking


a beginning


an unfinishing


an opening       up      out    into

1 British Library podcast, ANYTHING BUT SILENT series, The Soul Needs Books,

© city|speculations 2020