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British librarians turned to the classics to get through the pandemic


More than 400 librarians and bookworms in the UK recently selected the novels that meant the most to them during the pandemic. — AFP pic
More than 400 librarians and bookworms in the UK recently selected the novels that meant the most to them during the pandemic. — AFP pic

LONDON, Oct 13 — When the pandemic blues crop up, everyone has their own way to deal. In the UK, library visitors and staff of course turned to books for comfort. And certain novels, in particular by George Orwell and Rumaan Alam, were particular go-tos during this challenging period.

British association Libraries Connected asked more than 400 librarians and “bookworms” to choose the novel that meant the most to them during the pandemic. Among the top choices are classics of English-language literature such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  

Others, such as Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, demonstrate a craving for escapism. All of which was no surprise to Isobel Hunter, chief executive of Libraries Connected. “The power of books to soothe and comfort, to provide respite and escape and to generate inspiration, hope and empathy has never been more evident,” she stated. 

Surprisingly — or perhaps not, the list contains novels featuring pandemics. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, in which a travelling troupe of actors and musicians travels through the Lake Michigan area after civilisation collapses, is one such novel. Maggie O’Farrell tells the story of a plague-like disease in her latest novel, Hamnet. A plot that earned her the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award last year. 

Literary prizes and #BookTok

Many of the novels selected by visitors and staff members of British libraries are award winners. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is the winner of the latest edition of the Women’s Prize, while Bernardine Evaristo won the Booker Prize in 2019 with Girl, Woman, Other. One of the titles currently in the running for the Booker Prize also appears in this list: Great Circle by American novelist Maggie Shipstead. 

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While literary prizes can influence our reading choices, social networks are also increasingly having an influence. In particular TikTok and the members of its community of literature lovers, #BookTok. Books like Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller are particularly popular there, which probably explains their presence in the Libraries Connected list.

The eclectic selection comes as no surprise to Sue Williamson, director of libraries for Arts Council England.  This wide ranging and diverse list contains brilliant writers from the past and the present and introduces us to the great names of the future,” she emphasised. “The written word can take us into new worlds and deepen our understanding — we can listen to different voices, go on journeys and above all, relax and refresh our minds, even in difficult times.” — ETX Studio



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