In times like these, being stuck in the past can be a comfort
WHEN I THINK BACK about what I did during the Covid-19 pandemic, I wonder if I’ll remember how much time I spent not being there.
What I mean is, I’ve spent a lot of this year hiding in books, which is something I’ve done to distract myself from sadness and worry ever since I was small.
But for some reason, most of my lockdown reading has been about history – whether it’s a novel set in times gone by, or an academic account of what went down back then.
Since the March lockdown, for example, I’ve learned all about the English Civil War, John F. Kennedy’s life before he ran for President, and Agent Sonya, the Soviet spy who stole the secrets of the atomic bomb for Stalin in the 1940s.
Meanwhile, among the novels set in the past that I’ve enjoyed were Benjamin Myers’ The Gallows Pole (about 18th Century Northern England), Ian McGuire’s Victorian crime drama The Abstainer and Robert Harris’ V2, set in 1945.
It feels good to know that things do get sorted out”
And, while the books have hardly been escapist in their content – featuring heartless IRA assassins, wicked McCarthyites, monstrous Nazis, plus hangings, suicides, and violent death in its many manifestations – I’ve loved escaping into them, nonetheless.
That’s because learning about how the world resolved its past problems can be reassuring, especially when the present and the future are confusing and uncertain.
As the world struggles to deal with the pandemic, and worries about how it will affect our lives in the years to come, it feels good to know that things do get sorted out in the end.
It’s also comforting, on some level, to feel unmoved by, and distanced from, events that were cataclysmic for people at the time – perhaps because it means that, one day, our current troubles will also take on that ‘done and dusted’ feel.
Above all, history offers us confirmation of that soothing old adage: “This too shall pass”.