Reading & Literary Trends
The Covid-19 pandemic has influenced our consumption of media in a variety of ways. From every new Netflix original being crowned its ‘best ever’, to cinema releases being consistently pushed back, stay at home orders have resulted in us engaging with media differently. But how has the pandemic influenced reading & literary trends?
With social plans all but completely curtailed, reading has grown in popularity across the world. But, the books we read and the way we engage with them has changed too.
Periods of social, economic or political upheaval have, historically, defined literary movements. European Romanticism was, in part, a response to the industrial revolution, and English Modernism a reaction to WW1. The hard-boiled detective crime genre was born from the deprivations of the great depression, in 1930’s America.
Though it may take several years before we are able to clearly see how this global crisis will spark and influence literary movements, three prominent threads have already emerged from our pandemic reading.
Nostalgia, Lockdown & The Pandemic
The comfort of nostalgia has driven many of us to re-read our old favourites or work through the classics. Sales of classic books spiked by 35% in the first few weeks of lockdown, including books many read at school, such as The Great Gatsby. The safety and security of familiar plots may be driving more of us towards nostalgic reading as uncertainty persists the deeper we get into the pandemic.
Additionally, a survey by Aston University found that many people were choosing to read books they had enjoyed as children. This could suggest that our reading habits have been an attempt to self-soothe rather than push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
Beyond typical fantasy and science fiction, which also saw an increase, crime and thriller novels enjoyed considerable popularity during summer 2020. Conversely to those looking to self-soothe, the rise in suspenseful novels could be a result of people seeking excitement and resolution.
Thriller novelist Louise Doughty stated, “[It is a] mistake to assume that during difficult times people want light, escapist reading or heartwarming tales.” She claims crime and thriller “are genres where mysteries are resolved; the dark thing happens but there is often resolution and/or explanation at the end.”
As the end of our isolation has been unclear throughout the handling of the pandemic, this need for a conclusion and a pinpoint of blame could be a lifeline for those looking for answers.
There are those who have also spent their time reading books to help them process the changes in the world around them. Books like The Handmaid’s Tale, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, which are all set in dystopian futures have enjoyed increased demand since last March.
Though it may not feel like the best choice to invest in a world after radical societal change at a time like this, it may help readers understand the perspective of the writers who came before them and how to contextualise what is happening in their lives.
Home library trends
On social media and in our search behaviour, our need to display books is growing thanks to being inside for an extended period of time. There are 5,000 people following #homelibrary on Instagram, while hundreds of boards featuring this phrase are regularly being added to on Pinterest.
Searches for ‘build a bookshelf’ increased 85% in the first lockdown, while ‘how to put up shelves’ grew by 82% during the same period. Not only are we using this time to delve deeper into literary classics on all ends of the spectrum, we’re also investing in the aesthetic quality of reading and how it can influence our homes. This could also be related to the regular home library shots we see on video calls and how we and others perceive this.
Whether it’s escapism, comfort, resolution or catharsis, reading has played a significant part in our survival during this extended social hiatus. The collection and display of books is also becoming increasingly common as we celebrate literature as a key form of entertainment even despite the runaway success of binge-worthy streaming shows.