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Have People Been Reading More During Lockdown?

Lockdown has given me the chance to pick up one of my oldest hobbies again – reading. As a child I would always be midway through a book, and could finish one in as little as a day. However, as I grew older and school pressures increased, I fell out of love with it.

Reading for fun became a memory from the past and the only thing I had read in the past few years were the texts for my English literature A level – definitely more of a chore than fun! However, in lockdown, with so much time on my hands and very little else to do, I found myself gravitating back to reading, and ended up falling back in love with it.

1 in 3 adults are reading more

It turns out I am not the only one who has experienced this. According to The Reading Agency, 1 in 3 adults are reading more. There has been a notable spike in 18-24 year olds, with 1 in 2 reading more than usual – this is the age bracket which I fall into. Crime and classics have been the two most popular genres.

The Reading Agency claims that reading is important for connecting people, especially in times like these. People say that books have kept them company whilst they’ve felt lonely at home, or have helped them to pass the time and escape the current state of the world. This could explain the surge in people reading in the past few months.

Nielson Book Research found that 41% of people are reading more books during lockdown than usual. It was also found that people are spending much more time reading in lockdown, seeing an average increase from 3 and a half hours per week to 6 hours. This study also found that the most popular genre was crime and thrillers. 52% said they were reading because they had more spare time, 51% said it was to stay entertained, and 35% said they were reading as an escape. This study therefore found very similar results to The Reading Agency!

Crime novels are likely to capture people’s attentions

Waterstones have also said their sales reflected these findings, with their most popular titles being Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.

Some people may find the fact that crime is the most popular genre peculiar – surely people want something warm-hearted and light to read during these difficult times? However, crime novels are likely to capture people’s attentions, and have storylines which will ensure people get caught up in. Crime novels always end with an explanation and resolution, which may provide people with reassurance. This was the theory of crime author Louise Doughty.

It is not just crime novels that people have been reading – both surveys previously mentioned also found that books about pandemics have increased in popularity! This does not match up with the theory that people are reading to escape the current world, but people could be reaching out to books like these in order to provide them with reassurance that they are not alone in their situation and that it will all pass eventually. Books including The Plague by Albert Camus, The Viral Storm by Nathan D. Wolfe, and Lockdown by Peter May, have all seen a very high number of sales during the past few months.

Peter May himself commented on this. His novel Lockdown was not published until 2020 despite being written in 2005. It was rejected by publishers who claimed it was too unrealistic! However, due to the recent events of 2020, it has now been published, and he has donated money he has made from the sales to those on the frontline working hard to fight the virus.

May agreed with Louise Doughty, claiming that in crime novels, good will always win over evil and this reassurance is exactly what people need right now. He said that when he wrote his novel, no one could relate to the world he wrote about. Now, it is reality. Reading a story about a world so similar to the one we are all navigating today has provided comfort to many people.

He said that when he wrote his novel, no one could relate to the world he wrote about. Now, it is reality

It seems that not everyone has been finding it easy to read more during lockdown, even people who are usually very keen readers. Emily Maitlis, Newsnight presenter, for example, tweeted “Ok. An admission. I’m finding it really hard to read at the moment and I usually devour novels. Is anyone else? Is it concentrate span? Twitter? Or as I suspect the plots and problems now seem to belong to a slightly different age. Book tips?”

This suggests that because life in 2020 is so different to what we were used to in times before coronavirus, novels seem as if they are part of a different lifetime because they are written about a world where coronavirus does not exist and is not a concern. For example, reading a book where people are able to visit places and see their relatives seems ridiculous in current times. This explains why people have resulted to reading books about pandemics as mentioned before!

Psychologist Sarah Lewis explains Emily Maitlis’ struggles, claiming that when coronavirus was at its worst and posed a great threat to us, many of us were in a stage of hyper-vigilance, meaning we were incapable of shifting our attention away from coronavirus and focusing our attention on anything else. We are left unable to let our guards down. It therefore seems that reading has not been a hobby for everyone during lockdown, and instead has been something which has been difficult for some people to do.

However, it seems that the majority have found reading comforting during these times, myself included, as getting absorbed in a gripping story has been a great way to pass the time. I am going to aim to continue to read even as things continue to return back to normal, as I am glad that I have fallen in love with it all over again!

Books I have read during lockdown include The Holiday by T. M. Logan, The Guilty Friend by Joanne Sefton, Past Lives by Dominic Nolan, Bad Seed by Jessica Eames, Still Me by Jojo Moyes, Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllistair and Traces of Her by Amanda Brittany – I would highly recommend all of these if you are looking at getting into reading. Whether you’ve always loved reading, or if it’s something you’ve picked up during lockdown, then happy reading!

Gemma Cockrell


In-article images courtesy of @waterstoneslewes, @leenanorms and @lucythereader via Featured image courtesy of Mauricio Sepulveda via No changes made to these images. 

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One Comment
  • Matthew
    26 July 2020 at 21:25
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    Great article and very well researched! Personally I’ve struggled to read more in lockdown, though I’ve started up again recently. I find non-fiction keeps my attention better.

    TM Logan gave a talk for the Creative Writing Society before lockdown. He’s a lovely and genuine guy, so it’s nice to see you’ve got his book on your list!

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