Words by Anushka Searle
During the first lockdown, independent bookshops struggled, but people were still abundantly buying books. Bloomsbury revealed that they experienced a profit growth of 60% (amounting to £4m) in only six months. This is because book sales shifted to larger sales online, including an increase in e-book sales. Bloomsbury’s digital resources division alone saw a 47% increase in sales, due to academic institutions requiring digital resources for remote learning.
Sales also rose for books that included content on: ‘philosophy’, ‘race’ and ‘cooking’. Clearly, the nation chose lockdown as a chance to educate oneself on social issues and life skills. Many people used lockdown as an opportunity to better themselves, and even in our modern-day people still turn to books for education.
Some books that are focused on race (particularly the black experience) that topped the charts this year are: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, White Rage and Such a fun age This year has seen an increased amount of protests for the BLM, and books played a crucial role in this social movement, as people reached for books to educate them on racism and expand their empathy. Also, individuals wanted to read more stories from black authors in order to honour those that should have been recognised long ago.
Why do we turn to reading in times of difficulty?
During lockdown, one book I turned to, which also topped the charts, was Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas. This book would have been popular this year, lockdown or not; Maas is one of the most prolific writers in the Young Adult Fantasy genre, with a fanbase that would petrify potterheads. I have loved Sarah J. Maas for many years, and it was of no surprise to me that this book blew me away, and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads!
Personally, I turned to fantasy books such as House of Earth and Blood, because the fantasy genre falls under the category of ‘Escapist Fiction’. The definition of escapism is “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy”. Thus, many people would have been more inclined to reach for a book this year, in order to escape from the “unpleasant realities”of the pandemic. House of Earth and Blood really did help me to escape from the unpleasant realities and aided me in my grief of losing my nan to COVID.
Unsurprisingly, we also reach towards books during times of difficulty because reading reduces stress.In fact, a study conducted by the University of Sussex found that “stress levels declined by 68 percent after readers read for just six minutes”.
When you read a book, your mind is so encapsulated by the literary world that you begin to forget your daily stressors. Reading places you into a state of relaxation, whereby your heart rate decreases, and tension is eased from your muscles.
Certainly, one of the major factors contributing to more people reading was an increase in time. For once in our busy lives, we were all still. The pandemic put a stop to nearly everything that used to occupy our days, and our minds. Thus, the majority of us finally had time to relax and pick up that book you’d been meaning to read for years!
As England is in its second national lockdown, my question is what will we read this time? Will you reach for fantasy, education or Claire Saffitz new cookbook? Will we see more minorities represented in our reading? Will old hobbies be re-emerged? Will the content this time be focused on ‘LGBTQ+’, ‘disability’, ‘gardening’? It will be interesting to see how the pandemic will affect Christmas book sales. Hopefully, with the new socially conscious Amazon alternative, Bookshop (bookshop.org), we will see an increase in books brought from independent bookshops. Especially since Bookshop is working with Penguin on a special campaign this Christmas, where every time a book (from their hand-selected titles) is purchased, Penguin will donate a book to grassroots good causes across the country.