Books In The Time Of Coronavirus

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?

23 Comments

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23 responses to “Books In The Time Of Coronavirus

  1. It would have been lovely to see you at the Rathbones Event – here’s to next year.

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  2. Have been reading a lot of classic crime. Am now picking up Proust where I left him some years ago…

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  3. I’m planning on reading more books in foreign languages during lockdown – I’ve got several that I’ve been too scared of tackling, but with more time am getting into the groove now. Also as it takes me much longer I don’t need such a ready supply of new titles. Just finished Philippe Besson’s Arrete avec tes mensonges (Lie with me), which was nostalgic and well observed, and I have The Pine Islands on the go next. Um, also Camus La Peste, corny a choice as it is, for book group.

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  4. Most fortunately I collected a pile of books from Primrose Hill Bookshop knowing that as I would fall into the “extremely vulnerable” cohort, I would soon be in splendid isolation. I had already nearly finished the towering masterpiece that is The Mirror and the Light, I then read Graham Swift’s new novel (nice and short) and am currently tearing through Vasily Grossman’s novel Stalingrad (892 pages plus copious notes) which was heavily censored, but has finally come out in English as far as possible as it was written with a translation by Robert Chandler and Yury Bit-Yunan who had already translated the second part of this diology Life and Fate. And then I have a stack of fiction and non fiction which will feature in my own blog.
    BBC Sounds still has a marvellous account of the adventures that this book and its author endured in the tortuous grasp of the State and Stalin’s desire to present The Patriotic War in its own heroic and perfect light. In this time of isolation there is much comfort in podcasts and audio, since the news is unrelieved gloom

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  5. I’ve been thinking about you — it must be such a manic time for your work! I have skimmed a couple of medical history surveys recently and definitely gave the epidemic chapters a bit more attention than I might have otherwise. I hope you enjoy the Bryson; though you’re not escaping from medical stuff, it’s certainly a genial and lighthearted telling.

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    • Yes I’m enjoying the Bryson, as I knew I would! I wonder if popular science writing in general or the Wellcome Book Prize will be dominated by books about pandemics, viruses etc in future years – I’m finding it hard to imagine wanting to read much about them when this is all over!

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      • Good point — I’ve been wondering if, like 9/11, it will start turning up in lots of novels as well and, just as when you find out a book is set in NYC in 2000-1 you think “hmm, I wonder if…” you’ll see that it’s set in late 2019 or early 2020 and think “oh brother, I know where this is going!”

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  6. Currently reading Orfeo by Richard Powers with either Book of Leaves or Sputnik Sweetheart to follow depends on my mood… stay safe be well

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  7. Ethan S.

    I’m definitely finding the easiest option to be ebooks! I’m reading more general mystery kind of fiction right now. I think it is the ease and quick pace that really play in as main factors.

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  8. I’m still buying and supporting indie bookshops online – I think it only makes sense to stop if you wouldn’t purchase any other item online (including non-essential food).

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  9. Ha! This has made me feel better about the excessive number of books I have around too 🙂

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  10. ericvvv

    Hi there, this is my first time checking out your blog, I’ve enjoyed scrolling through it this morning!
    As far as the Covid pandemic is concerned, despite my desire for things to return to “normal”, I do have plenty of time to tackle some more ambitious reading projects now. Over the last few weeks, I’ve read some really interesting novels, including We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Tenants of Moonbloom and The Woman in the Dunes. I also spent 10 days and countless hours struggling through Underworld by Don DeLillo (when else am I going to have the time and motivation to read 800 pages of whatever Underworld can be called?). I’m not sure if it was quite worth the effort, but I’m glad I got through it. Currently, I’m just starting Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (another 800+ pages), which is fantastic so far and has already made me emotional getting through scenes in the concentration camps. Still, this one will be worth the effort I’m sure.
    Cheers,
    Eric.

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  11. I have been trying different things and nothing seems to stick. Poetry is my last recourse. Or a very realistic novel about a very ordinary life. -That- is my escapism.

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