People in the UK are turning to books to help them through lockdown, according to a new survey by The Reading Agency.
The figures, released on Thursday to mark World Book Night, suggest 31% of people are reading more since lockdown restrictions were imposed in the UK.
Most are reading fiction, with classics and crime novels proving popular.
Almost half (45%) of the young people – aged 18-24 – asked said they were reading more than they had been before.
And many of the 2,103 people surveyed cited reading as a form of release, escapism or distraction during these troubled times, and that having more time was the key to reading more.
Notably, the research found that titles regarding fictional epidemics, such as Albert Camus’ The Plague, and The Viral Storm, by Nathan D. Wolfe are seeing increased sales.
This is in line with films such as Contagion becoming more popular on streaming and download platforms.
Publishers and authors including Bernardine Evaristo, Margaret Atwood and Matt Haig have lent their support to the annual World Book Night campaign, which will invite people to enjoy a chapter alone or with loved ones and people online, during a #ReadingHour from 19:00 BST on Thursday.
It will see 50,000 books in all formats given away to people in prisons, hospitals, youth centres and mental health groups.
While audio and digital books can be given away immediately, the print books will not be distributed until later this year, following government advice.
Debbie Hicks, from The Reading Agency, stressed the scheme – also backed by the writers JoJo Moyes, Maggie O’Farrell and Jacqueline Wilson – will now help “bring individuals, friends and families together to connect a nation in self isolation”.
“This year’s World Book Night celebrations provides the perfect opportunity to showcase the proven power of reading to connect people,” she said.
“Never has this connectivity been needed more than at this anxious time of social distancing.”
The 2020 list of books being given away include How to Be a Footballer by Peter Crouch, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, as well as Double Crossed by Brian Wood, Diversify by June Sarpong, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn is also listed and its author added it was “quite magical” to be involved in a night of national collective reading.
“When I was a little girl reading by torchlight under the bedcovers, I couldn’t possibly have imagined how books would change my life,” said Winn.
“So to have The Salt Path chosen for World Book Night is quite magical, I’m very proud to add my written words to the millions of others tonight and watch their transformative power change more lives.”
World Book Night 2020 titles, to be given away:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
The Dead Ex by Jane Corry
How to Be a Footballer by Peter Crouch
Practical Zen: Meditation and Beyond by Julian Daizan Skinner
The Truth About Lies by Tracy Darnton
Darkness Rising (Quick Reads) by A.A. Dhand
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle
Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan
The Little Dreams of Lara Cliffe (Quick Reads) by Milly Johnson
Bedtime Stories for Stressed Out Adults by Various, ed. by Lucy Mangan
One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee
Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls
East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman
Diversify by June Sarpong
The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan
Somebody Give This Heart a Pen by Sophia Thakur
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Death in the Dordogne by Martin Walker
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Double Crossed by Brian Wood