How has the pandemic changed reading habits since March? Like most things during this time, there’s no one answer, no consistency in individual’s responses to the crisis. Some say they are reading more than ever. The shutdown allowed some more time for reading due to reduced work hours or furlough (or, sadly, unemployment). They may be back to regular hours now but cling to reading as a sanctuary, a distraction from world events. Some report that they’ve read the same amount but with stores and libraries closed, they switched from paper books to e-books or audio books, borrowed from libraries through apps such as Overdrive. Others have said they simply couldn’t read for pleasure during the first few months as they were too worried about their own and their community’s health. They were more likely to skim headlines on their phone, watch for updates of stats each day from the health department or binge watch shows to take them away from our grim reality.

Many said that as we enter the holiday season and winter approaches that they have resolved to read more. That’s a perfect excuse to head to your local bookstore or online bookseller to grab some book as gifts for friends and family.

Pause to consider how gift giving might be different this year. You may have seen this meme:

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Happy Jolabokafloo! meme

It reads: In Iceland, books are exchanged on Christmas Eve, and you spend the rest of the night reading. How cozy and wonderful does that sound? Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country, and new books are typically published only during the Christmas season – the frenzy is called Jólabókaflóð, which means Christmas Book Flood. (If you’re wondering how to pronounce jólabókaflóð, the phonetic pronunciation is yo-la-bok-a-flot, or you can listen to it pronounced here.)

Can you picture it? Family in their jammies, cozy in bed. Chocolate. Books. (Cue Julie Andrews and/or the Cast of Glee, “These are a few of my favorite things.”)

This year has been all about change. How we work, where we work. How our kids do school, how our teachers teach. We made it through Halloween with socially distanced Treat or Treating. At Thanksgiving we were encouraged to hold smaller gatherings and many families opted to celebrate turkey dinner together – but apart — via Zoom. While we may be weary of hearing (and saying) “it’s going to be different this year,” here’s an opportunity to make that a positive. Why not institute your own family’s version of Jólabókaflóð?

Here are some recommendations provided by Barnes & Noble to help you get your gift list started. Find more recommendations in the Gift Guide at

A new John Grisham

A Time for Mercy, John Grisham

Jack Brigance is back! The hero of A Time to Kill, one of the most popular novels of our time, returns in a courtroom drama that The New York Times says is “riveting” and “suspenseful.”

The Barnes & Noble Book of the Year

World of Wonders, Aimee Nezhukumatathil

World of Wonders is a mesmerizing work of essays and tender illustrations, meditations, on nature, cumulative in effect; nature as memoir, nature as metaphor, nature as simply and joyously itself. Each chapter captures a moment, each centered around a different natural phenomenon and charts the reverberations of the lived experience it evokes, be it family, identity or the notion of belonging. She urges us to start small to “start with what we loved as kids and see where that leads us.” A centering book, delightful and unexpected.

The Book Everyone’s Talking About

Winner of the Booker Prize, Finalist for the National  Book Award, National Bestseller

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart

The story of a working-class family getting by in 1980s Glasgow, Scotland as seen through the eyes of the on-the-fringes, lonely son Hugh “Shuggie” Bain. Gritty, dark and, at times, downright depressing, this novel isn’t afraid of shying away from the trials and tribulations of a truly difficult life and a family love that transcends the pain and heartache that come along with it.

Empowering Picture Book

The World Needs Who You Were Made To Be, Joanna Gaines

Joanna Gaines knows a thing or two about creativity and turning a challenge into beautiful art. In her second picture book, an inspirational message of acceptance and celebrating uniqueness is paired with and elevated by Julianna Swaney’s harmonious illustrations. A perpetually relevant and necessary concept, teamwork and celebrating our differences can lead to a truly beautiful outcome. “See how beautiful it can be when our differences share the same sky.”

A new cookbook from a favorite chef

Modern Comfort Food, Ina Garten

For someone who has over 12 million cookbooks in print, it’s a little shocking that everyone’s favorite Food Network star, Ina Garten, hasn’t devoted a cookbook to comfort food … until now. All her favorites are here, from childhood and throughout her life, which Ina looks back on with great nostalgia. Today, she updates these can’t-miss comfort foods with new flavor profiles and ingredients. Another bestseller for one of the greatest cookbook authors on the planet.

Compelling poetry

Light for the World To See, Kwam Alexander

How do you make words jump off a page? How do you convey the passion in your voice? How do you get someone to hear the rhythm of voice and words held together? To watch or listen to Kwame Alexander perform his fierce, beautiful and important words is to want to hold them in your hands, to want to embrace their depth and meaning. Alexander perfectly takes the spoken word and delivers it to the page with poems that get straight to the heart—in 1,000 words to be exact.

Need more reasons to read or encourage reading among friends and family, or to buy a book as a holiday gift? Consider the research.

The Psychological Benefits of Reading,

According to studies conducted by the Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 30 minutes of reading can help to lower one’s heart rate and blood pressure, as well as reducing psychological distress. 

Reading affords us the ability to project ourselves into the lives of others and sink into alternative realities. Whether this is the whimsical lands of Roald Dahl’s fiction or a biographical memoir, the act of reading can transport us to new dimensions. This process can help to mitigate feelings of isolation and estrangement which are particularly present during this time of social distancing.

All Reading Is Quarantine Reading

            Here’s an interesting perspective from Mark Athitakis, book critic and author of “The New Midwest.In an article inthe Washington Post from May 9, 2020, he said:

All reading is quarantine reading. That is, we use reading not just as a means to educate ourselves, or to “explore other worlds” and suchlike, but to literally keep our distance from others. And though curling up in a corner with a book seems like an obvious, natural act, reading alone and in silence is a relatively recent phenomenon. In his 1996 book “A History of Reading,” Alberto Manguel points out that until the 17th century, reading was more commonly done aloud and in groups, whether it was scribes in scriptoria copying out religious texts or news being read in bars. Literacy was low; the emphasis on collective information such as the word of God was high. When people did read to themselves, observers were moved to take note. In the 4th century, Saint Ambrose was baffled to see Saint Augustine read silently; Alexander the Great silently reading a letter from his mother left his soldiers befuddled.


  1. Karen, I love this post. And the photo for the blog post is genius. Just listening to jolaboklafo made me laugh. What a joyous read it would be if I could read all those books this season. Where to start?

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