As those of us that are still fortunate enough to be in employ prepare for a Christmas break, and those of us who aren’t stare down the bleak barrel of the future, there is surely one common comfort that can be sought. No, not the vaccine; books.
In October, it was reported that the sales of books have soared in the nation’s lockdowns. Publisher Bloomsbury reported its best half-year sales since 2008, with its founder Nigel Newton telling the BBC “there became a real uptake in reading, perhaps people tired of watching streamed movies which they binged on to begin with and turned to books.” Similarly Rose Cole, general manager of Daunt Books (an independent bookseller) told the press “we are acutely feeling the effects of people staying away from central London … but what we are seeing is that those customers coming in are enjoying the experience of browsing and discovering books more than ever.”
Not only have actual books surged in sales, but eBooks have also been subject to a new wave of popularity. So much so, that British publishers are expecting an all-time high in sales of eBooks this year, following six years of persistent decline in sales. Similarly, audiobooks – once dismissed as appropriate only for car journeys or silencing small children – are also experiencing something of a high. Sales increased by 42% in the first half of the year.
“There became a real uptake in reading, perhaps people tired of watching streamed movies which they binged on to begin with and turned to books” – Nigel Newton, Bloomsbury publishing house
“I’m listening to Audible more than ever before”, a friend tells the Catholic Herald. “I’m currently on The Prime Minister [by Anthony Trollope], having made my way through five of his Palliser series. Now that I’m not in an office, surrounded by people, I can put the book on in the background while I complete menial tasks for my boss. It feels as if someone else is in the room with me. I think listening to a book allows you to absorb it in a different way to reading a physical book. Both are magic, but for different reasons.”
And – get this – publishers Penguin Random House reported a rise in the number of people buying Bibles in the UK, US and Ireland. In a blog for the House’s website, John Barton (authour of Bible: The Books and Its Faiths” sought to explain this trend. “Perhaps the Bible is another of those books we always meant to make time to read, like War and Peace or Proust, and now we have that time. Perhaps for some it works as a kind of talisman, as it has done since antiquity. The content matters less than the physical presence of a holy object, which can help to keep us safe – like a St Christopher necklace for some drivers. Perhaps, as the Nielsen comments suggested, some people may want to check whether the virus is predicted in the Book of Revelation.”
“Some people may want to check whether the virus is predicted in the Book of Revelation” – John Barton
It is a double edged sword: both at once sad that reading – the simplest yet strongest of comforts – requires “rediscovering”, and pleasing that as a nation we are turning our eyes away from screens and back to the written word. This Christmas, let us feast on the written word and celebrate it in all its glory. The bounty is endless.
Independent booksellers are struggling this Christmas. Avoid the evil Amazon and search for your local bookshop here: https://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch.
Constance Watson is assistant editor of the Catholic Herald. She also contributes to Literary Review, Standpoint, the Telegraph, the Spectator and others.
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