How reading is helping to unite a world under coronavirus lockdown

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Book sales have increased by up to 400 per cent with dystopian fiction and heavyweight classics proving particularly popular for a populace that has sought solace in the written word.

Over the past few weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic has driven the world into  lockdown, I have found myself thinking about things I take for granted. About hand­washing. About the importance of doctors, nurses and hospital porters, but also post­men, refuse collectors and supermarket workers. About toilet paper. About how little the West pays attention to events in Asia. About whether talking on Zoom is better than by phone. But the everyday activity that has obsessed me the most is reading.

Maybe that’s because my day job largely consists of reviewing books and interview­ing authors, but it’s also because, as a father to a young daughter, I spend not inconsi­der­­able time either reading to or being read to by her.

Whether it was out of habit or the desire to cling to normality, it wasn’t long after we closed our front door to begin two weeks of self-isolation that I started to ask myself: what do you read during a pandemic?

It seemed trivial given the scale of the crisis outside, but it turned out I wasn’t alone. If recent reports are to be believed, the entire population of the quarantined world is (a) launching a podcast, (b) taking online exercise classes, (c) hosting dinner parties on Zoom, or (d) spending their waking hours with their noses buried in a gargantuan novel.

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Dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984 have proved popular reading material. Photo: Handout
Dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984 have proved popular reading material. Photo: Handout

“Reading matter” was one of six post-pandemic boom areas identified by the BBC: “Another pursuit that’s popular with people who have time on their hands right now is settling down with a good book.” “Looking for a respite from the news?” asked The New York Times. “You might find solace in reading.”

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