A Year Full of Reading During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Pandemic reading habits and their effect on the publishing industry.


Samantha Cavusoglu

Book sales were up in 2020 to the delight of book publishers, but it was online book sellers like Amazon and stores like Target and Walmart that experienced the largest rise in book sales. Many local bookstores still struggled to stay afloat during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic.

One of the most unexpected results of the major lifestyle shift that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant rise in reading. Even book publishers themselves could not foresee such a stark difference in book sales and reading habits. 

When the pandemic began around March 2020, book sales quickly dropped as businesses and stores shut down across the United States. Later in the year, however, these numbers rose, ending 2020 strongly with much higher numbers, indicating a nationwide rise in reading. 

One big difference that corresponded with this rise was a change in the way people read and buy their books. The majority of book sales that had in the past gone to traditional bookstores now came through online retailers such as Amazon or big-box stores like Target and Walmart. During the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, stores such as Target were labeled essential businesses, providing people who came in to buy groceries with an opportunity to also pick up a book. 

This phenomenon has translated into success for book publishers, but it has not made it any easier for authors who do not write bestsellers. Target and other similar stores tend to only offer bestsellers for sale, buying up popular books in large quantities. Such a phenomenon is similar with online sellers, as readers are less likely to pick up a new book of which they have never heard online, compared to shopping at bookstores in person, when they might get a personalized recommendation from the bookseller regarding this new book. 

Meanwhile, independent bookstores throughout the country have continued to struggle after being forced to close for months due to the Coronavirus pandemic. For example,‘Kew and Willow’ is an independent bookstore in Queens that has made many changes in order to combat the detrimental financial effects of the pandemic. Lavanya Manickam ’21 explored this local gem of a bookstore and their response to COVID-19 in a profile published in The Science Survey.

Social media may be the tool that can help bookstores like Barnes & Nobles continue to maintain a rise in reading for 2021. TikTok has been a major platform encouraging reading and helping books to sell in large quantities. Recently, many books such as We Were Liars, A Little Life, and The Song of Achilles have gone viral thanks to TikTok and wound up back on the bestsellers list years after first being published. Book publishers have recognized the power of such a platform and the young people making videos of their favorite books and have even begun to promote new books through users on TikTok. Bronx Science alumni and author Tashie Bhuiyan ’16 has started to use TikTok heavily in the promotion of her debut novel ‘Counting Down With You,’ which she discussed in an interview with Raitah Jinnat ’21 also published in The Science Survey. 

Bronx Science students experienced an increase in hours of free time with the Coronavirus pandemic and online school, giving many of us more reading time. “I’d say the pandemic allowed me to read more. I’ve always liked to read, but I finally had the time to read on my own,” said Labiba Aziz ’21.

If you are looking for recommendations from readers at Bronx Science, check out these picks.

“I would recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s a little hard to explain, but it basically goes through the story of the Buendia family through six generations. It’s a really fun read because you see so much overlapping between the sons and daughters of each generation (such as from the mistakes they made or how others treat them). There’s magic involved, and it is a fictional story, but my favorite part of the book is how it indirectly also shows the struggles that come from colonialism, too,” Aziz said.

“Reading is one of my favorite hobbies. I love I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. In a nutshell, it gives a dual perspective between twins as they deal with the aftermath of a tragedy. We see how they both deal with falling in love and with reconciling with each other,” said Julie Lin ’21.

“I’ve always liked to read but I finally had the time to read on my own,” said Labiba Aziz ’21.