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The rise of voluntary confinement and reading


Published in

El Norte de Castilla and Diario de Navarra

Gerardo Castillo

Professor School of Education and Psychology

The period of mandatory confinement to avoid possible Covic-19 infection was traumatic for many people. They felt caged in their home and had feelings of anxiety and claustrophobia. This prompted some of those confined to revive the picaresque. They resorted to leaving the house clandestinely to go for long walks, using tricks to avoid being fined, such as pretending to buy bread by carrying a loaf of bread as an alibi, or pretending to be walking a dog that they did not have, but that they had borrowed from a neighbor. Many of those people who used to feel caged at home, now voluntarily confine themselves to it, seeing it as a refuge.

Self-confinement is a growing trend that may become widespread, especially among the elderly, who are aware that they are more vulnerable. This is compounded by the worrying news about new infections and the successive and changing protocols to avoid infection. I know people who, in order to safeguard their mental health, have stopped watching the first part of the news.

The tension of feeling permanently threatened by a sword of Damocles called covic-19 often leads to stress. What would a city be like if all its inhabitants remained isolated at home? It sounds like science fiction or a Huxley novel about the future, but it could become a reality. To fill their many hours of leisure time, the self-confined are no longer satisfied with television and the Internet; they need something more personally engaging and fulfilling: books. The best survey on this question is to ask in bookstores. In contrast to the hospitality industry, bookstores are selling more than ever.

I think that this change in behavior between the two forms of confinement (mandatory and voluntary) is neither capricious nor incoherent. It is due to the increase in fear. Fear is an emotion that plays a fundamental role: survival. Without fear, we would live so recklessly that we would continually endanger our lives. Although some fears can be dysfunctional, hindering decision making, fear itself is not the problem. The problem is usually reacting with thoughtless attitudes, thus generating irrational fears.

Some people have discovered a resource to be confined only physically, not spiritually: reading, as seen in this testimony: "Learning to read is the most important thing that ever happened to me. I remember with clarity how that magic, translating the words of books into images, enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space and allowing me to travel with Captain Nemo twenty thousand leagues under the sea, to fight alongside d'Artagnan, Athos, Portos and Aramis against the intrigues that threaten the Queen in the times of the winding Richelieu, or crawl through the bowels of Paris, transformed into Jean Valjean, with the inert body of Marius on my back" (speech by Mario Vargas Llosa on receiving the Nobel Prize). In a country that reads very little, it has had to be confinement that captures many new readers. Once again, the saying "every cloud has a silver lining" is true, because continuous reading, the reading habit, is very beneficial at all ages. For Borges, "the sword or the plow are an extension of the hand; the mirror or the telescope of our eyes. The book, on the other hand, is an enduring extension of the imagination and of the report".

Reading is especially necessary in today's technologized society. The average teenager spends half a day on social networks, and possibly not an hour reading a novel. However, it has never been so important to know how to read and understand what is read as in this era, in which information flows quickly and requires an almost immediate understanding. Whoever does not know how to analyze a text today, will hardly be able to make good use of new technologies.

The question is no longer whether people read more or less than before, says writer María Teresa Andruetto, but what we can do to improve the quality of readers. She adds that literature is a space of contempt. In the act of reading, a book becomes a living being, capable of questioning us, disturbing us and teaching us to look at areas of ourselves that are not yet understood. This is the revolution that we must undertake in the field of reading, to build our own voice against the single discourses and totalizing looks".

I agree that reading is a revolutionary act because it makes us think and makes it possible to disagree with meaning in the search for truth.