In these turbulent times of lockdown and misery, most of us have learned to cling on to any good news we can get. The world we knew might feel like it’s over, we may have to spend the next god knows how long indoors, the dreaded coronavirus may still be very much here, the days are getting darker, and things, on the whole, are pretty terrible. But every now and then there’s a little snippet of information that makes you think: “Oh that’s nice. Maybe there’s hope after all.”
One such piece of news is that people are reading more. Last month publisher Bloomsbury reported its best half-year profits since 2008, with a population in lockdown rediscovering their love of books.
In a statement Bloomsbury’s founder and chief executive Nigel Newton said the firm feared the pandemic would batter the business, but as the months passed by the publisher noticed a “real uptake in reading”. It had predicted sales would fall by 75 per cent as a result of the pandemic, but by July they’d risen by 9 per cent. A survey by the Reading Agency also showed one in three people are reading more – with a spike in younger readers aged 18-24.
It’s hard to read the news these days without being catapulted into a never-ending cycle of fear and horror, so it’s no surprise people are running into the safe arms of fiction. Books lend the opportunity to dive into another world, one where Boris Johnson doesn’t exist and life is anyone’s for the taking. Now more than ever, in a world under restrictions, books are a vessel for time travel and adventure, a journey into an imagined past, a happier future or a chance to explore a parallel universe.
Perhaps it’s Ernest Hemingway’s escapades drinking Pernod in Paris, perhaps it’s the ghost of Rebecca lurking in the minds and corridors at Manderley, maybe it’s Atticus Finch putting the world to rights in his closing speech in a courtroom in Alabama – books are a pit
of magical sand to bury your head into, and it’s good to see more people taking solace in literature in such dark times.
In further positive book-related news, indie bookshops finally have a viable way to compete with Amazon, with the recent UK launch of new website Bookshop (uk.bookshop.org).
Bookshop allows socially conscious readers to support their local high street by buying directly from smaller bookshops online. The launch has been described as a “revolutionary moment in the history of bookselling”.
Independent bookshops have been ordered to shut shop for now but Bookshop, launched in the US earlier this year, means the 130 stores that have signed up so far will be able to carry on selling their wares through the lockdown – and in the spirit of 2020 it is hoped communities will rally around and support their local businesses.
That’s all from me for now. We’ll all be back in December, when things are hopefully a bit better and we can all go out for a pint again. But in the meantime, if the world feels like it’s a bit too much at the moment, just stick your head in a book. And for goodness sake, don’t check the news.