Lockdown has been rubbish for almost everyone, but it’s been brilliant for publishers. According to provisional figures from book sales monitors Nielsen, Britons bought more than 200 million books last year, an annual increase of over five per cent. That’s real books, print books, not downloadable ones. If you’re going cross-eyed from too much screen-time, Kindle isn’t the answer; a book with pages is, not least because you can tell from just looking at it how far you’ve got to go. That’s £1.76 billion in UK sales for a beleaguered industry
It’s especially brilliant because bookshops were shut for about five months last year and now they’re shut again. And when they reopen, those of us who like nothing better than to browse the spines on the shelves because you don’t know what you’re looking for will make a run for Hatchards. According to The Bookseller, in the first week in which bookshops reopened in June, sales were up 31 per cent over the same period the year before.
The trouble is quite a lot of the lockdown sales will be through big online retailers, not through actual bookshops. You might want to check out either an independent bookshop website, like John Sandoe, or BookShop.uk, which allows you to buy books through a range of independent shops. While it’s good that people are reading, what they’re reading varies in substance.
In fiction, there’s Charlie Mackesy’s feelgood The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse (taster: “Asking for help isn’t giving up,” said the horse); the agreeably unthreatening Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (good luck trying to read that one). In cookbooks, Pinch of Nom — cooking for slimmers — heads the field. For children, yes, it’s David Walliams.
Maybe we could range a bit further. For enjoyable escapism, try Eric Ambler; for contemporary demanding, fiction, perhaps Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi; for cooking, The Irish Cookbook by JP McMahon; for children, something non-English… how about Emil and the Detectives? And if you’re quarantining in a hotel for 14 days, take all the novels of Ivy Compton-Burnett.