The COVID Reading Surge

miami book fair
(Photo by Jessica Ruscello)

Chances are, you know a few people who would snicker at the idea of reading novels for pleasure. In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year–whether it be a tangible paperback or even listening to an audiobook while driving. 

Fast forward to 2021, and reading habits have changed drastically over the past year largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to The Guardian, a survey of 1,000 people indicates that time with books has almost doubled. More than half of respondents said it was because they finally found the time to read during quarantine. Other participants said it kept their minds away from the crisis or that they wanted to be entertained. Apparently, people got bored of binging Netflix and learning how to make sourdough bread from scratch. 

Local bookstore Books & Books saw this rise in demand for print stories, and responded by expanding their reach at the start of the pandemic. “When the pandemic forced Books & Books to shut down our physical locations, we immediately pivoted to make sure we were able to support our community’s needs by moving online,” shared Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan. “Our online bookstore was vibrantly supported and where in the past we didn’t sell much there, our sales online helped sustain us while at the same time we provided a needed service to our customers. As folks needed vital information trying to make sense of what was happening regarding COVID, the tragedy of the George Floyd murder, and the divisive election they turned to books.”

Ellen Randolph, Manager of Library Services for the Boca Raton Public Library, acknowledges the negative side of people not being able to physically visit the library. “Usage statistics indicate that families and children benefit from browsing instead,” Randolph shared. “Although we offered ‘book bundles’ to help parents and caregivers with selection, being able to look at the illustrations encourages more checkouts. It is likely that with online learning, children may have needed more physically active breaks than reading the past year.” However, Randolph also says that the library’s “digital library increased overall by 30%”. Similar to Books & Books, people were browsing online for reading material during the difficult time.

When asked whether he thinks the Covid reading surge will last, Kaplan says he is not sure, but “the pandemic is a stark reminder that we should slow down and feed our souls and recognize the preciousness of experiencing the wonders that can be found between the covers of a good book.”

And Kaplan is right. With findings that reading can promote mental health and even cause for a person to live longer, let’s hope that the Covid reading surge does not die out any time soon. 

For more, check out our monthly book recommendations with Mitch Kaplan.