What do you read during times of crisis?


We are in late Spring, 2020 and the world has turned on its head. What are you reading during these challenging times? And how often? Is it more or less than usual?

Are you loving the same genres and working through your to-be-read pile, relishing in the normality of familiar choices, or perhaps you have a yearning for something different? Then again, your reading mojo may have altogether disappeared, buried beneath layers of anxiety, and smothered in a lack of concentration.

Many bookstores reported an increase in sales before lockdown, as readers sought to ensure they replenished their bookshelves for an extended stay-at-home. For e-book readers, there was no need, as more books can be obtained at any time of night or day. For those who love to hold a hard-copy book, many independent bookstores will deliver to you, so there is no shortage of access to fiction. There may, however, be less disposable income around, and re-reading your copy of an old favourite doesn’t cost anything and takes you to a familiar world – enjoyment guaranteed.

But not everyone has more time during a lockdown or restricted movement. Many have less, as they juggle home-schooling children, working from home, and dealing with the general difficulties and delays that impact day-to-day movements and activity.

In 1943, historical fiction topped the charts in the New York Times bestseller lists, ranging from Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek, Franz Werfel’s The Song of Bernadette, and The Robe from Lloyd C Douglas. With diverse settings from Chares II’s England, the biblical The Robe and 19th Century France, these stories, anchored in the past, provided comfort reads, and a sense of escapism as the reader becomes immersed in a time very different from their own. Maybe that was the main attraction. Perhaps it still is.

Fast forward to the noughties and a financial crisis. Crime and thrillers rose to the fore, meting out retribution, justice, and punishment. The chart’s belonged to the likes of James Patterson, Harlan Coben, Lee Child and David Baldacci and Stieg Larsson’s Girl With A Dragon Tattoo.  Then there was the sheer escapism provided by the continuations of a love story with a biting twist, courtesy of Edward, the vampire hero of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. The break from reality also came via Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Sherrilynn Kenyon’s fantasy worlds. Fall into the story and forget your troubles.

In the late Spring of 2020, the bestseller lists say we’re reading crime and thrillers, which do tend to rule the charts at the best of times. Are we reading more of these now? Do we crave the neatness of a beginning, middle and end, that gleaming circle of crime and justice, of clues discovered and criminals punished? Sprinkled throughout are feel-good romances and well-crafted historicals. As time moves on, what will the charts reveal about the novels we choose at this time?

As we adjust to the events of 2020, one thing is sure, there is no cookie-cutter reading list. Read what makes you happy, read what you feel like, read to escape, to gain knowledge, to ease anxiety or to escape into a fabulous story. What are you reading?