Thanks to the quarantine, we’re all locked away in our houses, though I recognize people who work in certain industries may still be heading to the job each day, either physically or remotely. Some book lovers, like me, are struggling to read. After I finished Sheepish by Catherine Friend, a memoir about sheep (yay!) with short chapters, loads of humor, and emotional depth, I just couldn’t train my brain to “learn” a fictional world. Setting, characters, plot, pacing — I just wasn’t connecting to any of that. So, I switched over to an audiobook and found some relief and did loads of online jigsaw puzzles (to the point where I was actually dreaming about completing jigsaw puzzles).
Other bookworms are reading with the pedal to the metal and churning out loads of reviews and are highly active on Goodreads! Wherever you are on your journey, surely you are aware of the physical strains of reading. Not just your eyes, which will need a rest. But other important body parts: arms, hands, neck, back, shoulders.
For me, it can start with a weird pinch on the inside of my right elbow. I also have a tendency to push my shoulders up toward my ears if I’m not thinking about releasing tension — and this can be especially true when I’m reading a compelling story! Afraid of being left out, I always have a book in my purse, meaning my back muscles strain more than they should, depending on the heft of the text I’m toting.
You might ask why I don’t switch to e-books if I’m struggling. I do! Carrying a tablet quickly wears out the muscle in the meat of my thumb. My wrist will get a bit creaky, and worst of all is my pinky, which I put under the bottom of the device so I don’t drop it. The horrible red line that appears on my most delicate of digits is painful! And that’s around the time when by biceps start saying, “f-you” and get tired.
If you start to feel the burn, try some alternatives. Get an mobile device pillow, which has a good angle on which you can prop up your tablet (or phone, if you read there). You’re hands free except when you turn pages. Check out “Flippy,” an e-reader pillow that comes in a variety of colors and patterns. I have a similar e-reader pillow that I received for free, and it has been a game changer for those reader’s aches and pains in my fingers, wrists, and skin.
One of my most distinct memories from college is how much my neck hurt from reading. During one particularly stupid semester (stupid by my own design), I took 21 credit hours, all with an emphasis on reading texts (I piled on literature and history classes). The more my neck hurt, the more prone it was to hurt even with a little reading. To correct the situation, I would need my chin to be parallel to the floor, not pointed down at a book on my desk. But how do you hold up 1,000-page tome for the hours you need to spend doing homework, especially if you decide to take a break from the homework in one class only to have to do more reading for another? Back then, I had a “candy bar” cell phone, so I have to believe the strain is worse now that we look down as cell phones frequently.
Well, my days of living by the semester are over, so I don’t have to worry about taking notes for assignments. Instead, I’ve found that laying in a U-shape on a couch, propped up on pillows so that my head is 100% supported by those pillows helps. Place a bunched up blanket or some throw pillows on your tummy, and place your book on top. All the muscles and joints that need relief — elbows, neck, shoulders — are given extra support. While you can’t be laying on the couch every time you read, breaking up your reading between sitting up and laying down makes those sitting up sessions less painful.
Although some book bloggers and readers are choosing to race ahead and read the most books (which isn’t even quantifiable), it may be time to put that novel down and do some Yoga with Adriene or Walk at Home with Leslie Sansone. Keeping muscles and joints in good health support overall health, but also support the strength in your core and arms needed to continue reading with good posture.
And lets not forget about folks who cannot read physical or e-books on a regular basis due to chronic pain or other disabilities. Musicians know what a hassle it is to do that quick-scramble page-turn in the middle of a performance, and if you’ve ever seen the new technology around sheet music and page-turning, you’re likely as excited as I was the first time I saw it. Gone is paper sheet music, and a gentle step on a pedal, much like the kind guitarists use, will turn the page on your e-device. Check out these solutions, useful also for people with limitations on their upper body. Furthermore, Apple is getting on board, putting up complete instructions on how to put an iPhone into accessibility mode to help individuals with limited body movement.
Keep an eye open for, and support, technologies that keep people reading books despite temporary or long-term physical disabilities and pain. This includes refraining from claiming that audiobooks “aren’t really” reading, a debate that holds no water, especially when made by able-bodied people who feel the need to argue semantics (“read” vs. “listen”).
And for those who have limited use of all their limbs, there are solutions, but at this time many of them are pricey. I imagine something simple in the future, like downloading an app on your tablet that allows you turn pages by saying, “turn page.” This technology isn’t readily available, not that I’ve found, and while searching for accessibility for people with mobility issues, I discovered that a lot of focus is on print instead (for people with learning disabilities or poor eyesight).
However, the Center on Technology and Disability has put together information about how technology can assist those in our communities to learn, grow, and thrive. Two tools I’d never heard of to help people physically read books is called a “page fluffer” and a “switch access.” They are super neat and simple! Here is a half-minute video showing how a page turner works for folks who have limited fine-motor skills.
While you may not be affected as a reader due reduced or inability to use your limbs right now, keep in mind that people undergo surgery, we’re living longer, and many of us are likely to experience the limited use of our bodies in the future.
What physical issues do you feel when you’ve got a book you just can’t wait to (or maybe even have to) finish? How do you troubleshoot any physical roadblocks you face? What technologies do you know of that help people with physical disabilities continue to read?