Until recently, the closure of all libraries and bookshops until further notice in the UK and many other countries across the world was a scenario which would only be considered in the context of a dystopian novel, but this is now the new reality we live in as social distancing measures come into force to prevent the spread of coronavirus. I currently have one physical library book checked out (‘The Body’ by Bill Bryson – from what I’ve read so far, I can tell you that pages 33-36 on viruses have acquired a new significance since the book was first published just six months ago) and I have no idea when I’ll be able to return it. Fortunately, the library service I use has a very good ebook selection so I’ll be using that a lot over the next few months.
The recent jump in book sales while consumers prepared for lockdown is likely to be short-lived. Buying books online presents the dilemma of wanting to support the publishing industry and keep occupied during an uncertain period of social distancing, but also not wanting to put people at risk by having items delivered by post. Sources of new books are already being reduced anyway – the suspension of new orders by wholesalers will particularly hurt independent booksellers who only have a small amount of existing stock available to ship. Ebooks and audiobooks appear to be the safer options right now.
Countless events, launches, award ceremonies and festivals have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. I had planned to go to the Rathbones Folio Prize ceremony a couple of weeks ago at the British Library which was held digitally instead. The Women’s Prize for Fiction will be awarded in September, six months after the shortlist was announced. Several book launches are also being delayed which will probably have a knock-on impact into next year and beyond.
For those with the headspace to seek out pandemic-related books, a couple of non-fiction titles I can recommend are Pale Rider by Laura Spinney about the Spanish flu in 1918 and The Health of Nations by Karen Bartlett about the development of polio vaccines. However, I expect many of you might be opting for something more comforting or escapist in these unprecedented times. Like most people, my concentration levels have been quite poor recently and I haven’t been reading much at all. However, years of book hoarding can now be legitimately framed as sensible stockpiling and self-isolation will be an opportunity to get through more of my TBR list and maybe reread some old favourites too.
Hope you all stay well wherever you are. What are you planning to read during lockdown?