Can Books Compete With Netflix? Yes, and Here’s Why


IN A NORMAL year, Dayna Reber, a business analyst for a technology consulting firm in Camp Hill, Penn., would finish reading around three books. Thanks to the way Covid-19 has upended her daily routine, however, Ms. Reber, 30—who now works from home and rarely socializes offline—has polished off 46 volumes so far in 2020. And that count doesn’t include the bedtime stories she reads to her 4-year-old.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

What have you been reading during the pandemic, and how are you getting your hands on new material to read? Join the conversation below.

The secret to Ms. Reber’s success as a pandemic bookworm: Walking. “I walk on the treadmill so I read on [there],” she said. She also exploits other pockets of her day—the brief periods before she signs on for work or while she’s cooking—to sneak in a few more pages.

For Ms. Reber and others, lockdown has reignited an enthusiasm for reading, both as nourishing time-filler when stuck at home and as a trusty escape.


‘When the coronavirus hit, I just felt a need to get away from TV and screens.’

Another newly voracious page-turner, Ginny Muse, 47, from Ada, Okla., is a mother of three and the wife of a preacher. “I was not a heavy reader other than Christian Bible study books,” said Ms. Muse, “When the coronavirus hit, I just felt a need to get away from TV and screens.” She went to a neighbor who reads avidly and borrowed a novel. “I just needed to sit outside and hold a book in my hand.” Starting with “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens, she has now finished 49 books since March.

If binge-reading hasn’t fully supplanted binge-watching

Netflix

shows quite yet, the trend is certainly making strides. In August 2020, year-over-year sales of print books in the U.S. were up 13%, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks book sales across the U.S. Publishers also report a notable increase in purchases of e-books, as well as all books about politics or related to civil rights, racism and diversity.

“Books on racism, the sales have been unbelievable. Books like ‘White Fragility,’ we’re now selling hundreds of them,” said Tom Lowenburg, owner of Octavia Books in New Orleans. “I can’t think of anything comparable in my 20 years as a bookseller.”

Mary Ann Donaghy, who owns the Bookworm in Bernardsville, N.J, said she’s found her customers are reading more too, across a variety of genres.

Independent booksellers, as well as publishers and authors, deserve considerable credit for fueling the page-turning trend. When statewide lockdowns shut the doors on many bricks-and-mortar bookshops, and publishers could no longer promote new releases via in-person readings, the book business rewrote the rules of engagement.

In March, Octavia Books introduced free shipping or delivery within New Orleans on orders of $25 or more. The bookstore also hosts author events via Zoom. Ms. Donaghy reopened the Bookworm retail space in June, offering customers a contactless pickup area that let them collect books they’d already purchased online or by phone. And in Evanston, Ill, Page 1 Books established a subscription service, where customers fill out an online profile, noting their literary tastes, and then receive a package each month, a mix of hardcovers and paperbacks. (For examples of other enterprising independent bookstores around the country, see “

Amazon’s

Friendly Competition,” at right.)

Beyond the bookstore, the literati are plunging into the virtual world. Authors now debut their novels via Instagram Live. Book clubs via Zoom and

Facebook

are going strong. Publishing conventions are moving online, and swapping sites—where you trade used books with strangers—are more active than ever.

Ms. Muse favors the Facebook swap group founded by former “Bachelorette” contestant Ashley Spivey, who also formed an online book club that has grown to some 36,000 members and expanded to virtual book events with authors over the past few months. Ms. Muse said she’s swapped about 10 books this summer alone via Facebook with people “from California to Maine, to Florida, all over. Not that I know those people but that was just a neat connection.”

Jamie Miller, 34, a book blogger and “book-stagrammer” who lives in Harleysville, Penn, has long been a committed reader, but she says the pastime has assumed far more importance this year. She now schedules a block of time every morning to read, typically a romance or graphic novel.

“Everything became so chaotic around me that it was that it was just like what can I control?” said Ms. Miller. “My brain just wants something guaranteed to be a happy ending.”

Make Me a Match, Find Me a Find

We asked three booksellers to suggest fresh picks for fans of classic adventure yarns, romances and mysteries



Photo:

F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

If you liked ‘Horatio Hornblower’ by C.S. Forester

You might like ‘Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time’ by Ben Ehrenreich. Set in the Mojave Desert and Las Vegas, “it’s my kind of modern adventure story, relying on introspection, critical thinking and creativity.” —Stacey Lewis, City Lights Books, San Francisco



Photo:

F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

If you liked ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

You might like ‘Well Met’ by Jen DeLuca. “The protagonists are messy but not messes, and DeLuca really shows the layers to the relationships. Most important, the characters talk to one another!” —Jamie Thomas, Women & Children First, Chicago



Photo:

F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

If you liked ‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christie

You might like ‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper. “This Australian-outback set thriller is smart, suspenseful and has an incredible sense of place. You can practically feel the heat of a hot Australian summer as the hero narrows in on the killer.” —Erin Neary, Book Club, New York City

Amazon’s Friendly Competition

These local bookshops are thinking outside the cardboard box, offering free delivery, literary care packages or nibbles to pair with your novella.

A Cappella Books, Atlanta In March, this bookstore in Inman Park—a trove of new and used books—introduced free delivery within 24 hours. The service extends to locals in most Atlanta neighborhoods who spend $20 or more. acappellabooks.com

Kramerbooks and Afterwards Cafe, Washington, D.C. A DuPont Circle landmark, Kramer’s now lets locals order food and new book releases from Postmates at the same time. Nosh on a cheese melt while you’re devouring “The Vanishing Half.” kramers.com

The Novel Neighbor, Webster Groves, Mo. Choose your preference—true crime, mindfulness, science fiction, Harry Potter—and your price ($35 to $100) and you’ll get a “Mystery Box” packed with a curated selection of books and other goodies. thenovelneighbor.com

Magic City Books, Tulsa, Okla. For the $55 Literary Care Package, you fill out a form briefly describing the type of book you want to read right now and you’ll be sent a custom-picked selection. Or sign up for the $100 Magic City Mailbox to get one book a month for three months in your genre of choice, from fiction to current events. magiccitybooks.com

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