Reading in the Pandemic
Being here in 2020, nobody would’ve seen it coming. Coronavirus has impacted our lives in almost every way imaginable. In these times of desperation, people seek solace in different places, different hobbies and different people. As such, a sort of lost pass time has resurfaced and has former revellers on the hook again. The habit of reading has dwindled in this fast paced technology-driven modern world with the majority preferring to invest their little leisure time on scrolling Twitter or Instagram feeds or watching movies on demand with the ever-increasing OTT services. Those avid readers too moved away from the warm world of books.
The statement is supported by data provided by the Washington Post and CNBC which reported in 2018 that the share of Americans who read for pleasure on a given day has fallen by 30% to 16.8 minutes a day (survey conducted by Bureau of Labour Statistics, USA) and further adds that about 24% haven’t read even a single book in the past year. In comparison, India leads the chart amongst global readers with an average of 10.42 hours per week, which again is an all-time low for the country as reported by Global English Editing. In contrast, average screen time for a person is 3.25 hours in 2019, which is greater than 4.5 hours when considering only the top 20%; going as high as 7.5 hours among teenagers(as reported by Rescue Time and the Washington Post). This is 10 times higher than what it was in 2011 and continues to grow at an alarming rate.
However with the ongoing situation, people found loads of time in their hands to kill and have again picked those old books covered in dust or their Kindles, which earlier were rendered useless.
BookNet, Canada conducted a research and found that about 80% of Canadians had read a book during April 2020, with 58% of them reading more than they did before. The increased reading time has been compensated by reduction in shopping, dining out and time spent listening to music. 22% of the surveyed are buying more books than before.
Data from studies show that during this pandemic, Americans have increased their reading activities. Facebook mentions and Google searches of Barnes and Noble (upto 23,100) and Books-A-Million (upto 31,000) have peaked in this pandemic in America as per Thinknum Alternative Data Tool. Amazon, China reported 70% of the existing readers picked up more books during lockdown. Survey conducted by three graduate students in India on reading habits was published on Digital Commons by the University of Nebraska. The findings of the study show an increase in the number of hours spent reading per day, the average of which has increased from 1-2 hours to 3-5 hours; with 70% of those surveyed reporting an increase in reading time in this quarantine situation.
Many countries including India have also seen a sudden surge in the number of books bought online, be it an e-book or a traditional paperback. Online video-conferences with authors have helped individual booksellers stay competitive during this time. Couple this with the thousands of lists of critics’ recommendations and you might find yourself already busy for the next few months.
Imagine yourself during those summer vacations from school, curled up in one corner of the house, with no care for the world, immersed in the mythical land of Percy Jackson or racking your brains trying to unravel the mysteries weaved by Agatha Christie or longing for an embrace from that special someone reading the lines of Wordsworth! Feel nostalgic yet? Who knew restrictions on physical movement would yield an unexpected but welcome emergence of lost freedom with regards to reading.
Yet in this sudden expanse of time all is not the same as reading habits have undergone a paradigm shift. With the flexibility to read at previously unavailable moments of the day, one might find themselves waking up next to a book instead of rushing to the college or office. Having previously sought comfortable places like a bed or sofa, readers are reportedly preferring more open spaces with a hint of sunshine falling on those pages. This has also been accompanied by an increased movement with frequent breaks, as per a study conducted by the National Centre for Writing, USA. People, who travelled on a daily basis and used to listen to Audiobooks; now have the luxury to delve in those yellow-scented pages and take pleasure in with their own eyes rather than somebody else’s narration.
While it has brought back a lost pass time for most, this situation has also opened the avenues for first-time readers. Toddlers and teens are being encouraged to take up books and are developing reading habits. Adults too, in an effort to reduce screen-time, have turned to books and have found themselves inspired and amazed.
As it stands, we need more of such inspirations and distractions to take us away from this bleak situation and give hope for a better tomorrow. And Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa rightly sums it up, “Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life around us.”