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Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

Any bookworm will tell you books are the best — an endless source of history, humor, humanity, romance, fantasy, broadened horizons, and whatever else you might be craving. But right now, in these challenging times, books are so much more. They’re a valuable tool to support our well-being.

As a young kid and all the way through high school and beyond, I was often housebound with chronic digestive issues. Though I was pretty good at entertaining myself, it left me feeling anxious about social activities. As a result, I didn’t socialize in traditional ways as much as my peers.

I found solace in the quiet of my room, reading. And during some of the toughest moments of my life (both as a child and as an adult), it was books that got me through, gave me hope, and provided a space for my brain to relax and take a break from it all.

“Let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading.” —Lena Dunham

Now in my mid-30s, I’ve realized that setting aside time to read each day is still something I need to do to feel my best in the world, much the same way people need to exercise or eat a balanced diet. I literally don’t know what I’d do without books.

If you’re one of those people who grew up loathing books because you had to read them for homework, please give them another chance! I’m sorry the books you were assigned by your eighth grade English teacher may have soured your experience, but I’d hate for anyone to miss out on the incredible joy that can be found in reading.

I promise there’s something for everyone — something that actually feels fun to read. In fact, it’s proven that recreational reading is a great way to cope with mental stress.

Reading can invite you to think in new ways, expand your imagination, deepen your empathy, help you temporarily escape reality, and increase your knowledge and awareness of others. In a study at Sussex University, reading for as little as 6 minutes was shown to reduce stress levels by 60 percent.

Research has also found that frequent lifelong participation in “cognitively stimulating activities” like reading can lead to a slower rate of cognitive decline as we age. It might even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. So, it really couldn’t hurt to pick up a book.

In these uncertain times, reading is not only a way to pass an afternoon or wind down screen-free before bed but also a way to self-soothe and give your mind a break from all the worrisome news. And hey, if you pick up a book that doesn’t turn out to be great, at least you have something to use in an “oh, sh*t, I’m out of toilet paper” emergency.

Seriously, though: Reading, while often a solitary act — perfect for these times of self-quarantine — can also be a fantastic way to connect. In my lifelong journey of being bookish, I ended up discovering the world of Bookstagram, and, like many other readers, I’m now part of a book community/family that makes me smile every single day.

Whether it’s talking about books on social media, watching BookTubers chat about their latest favorites, or joining a book club in person or online, there are plenty of ways books can create connections.

There may be no better time to join an online book club than in this era of social distancing. From a fantasy-focused club to a thriller-marathon group, there’s something for everyone.

Here at Greatist, we just launched Greatist Reads, our official book club, which will focus mostly on wellness-related books. I hope you’ll join us on Goodreads, where we’ll be discussing our first selection, Average Is the New Awesome by Samantha Matt, this month.

So, treat yourself to that book you’ve been eyeing, tackle that TBR stack you’ve been meaning to get to, join a book club, or simply Google “bookstagram” if you’re not yet familiar. You won’t be sorry.

Naomi is the book club editor of Greatist Reads and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves focusing on all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy author and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife.