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Book Sales Rise as People Try to Finally Read Ulysses and Other Overrated Classics

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People are reading in isolation due to the coronavirus, with many deciding to finally tackle some of the hefty books that are often toted as “classics” and “must-reads” because, you know, why not?

The Guardian reports that the U.K. bookstore chain Waterstones says its online sales were up by 400% week on week, with “significant uplift” on classics including One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of CholeraBeloved, The Great Gatsby and The Bell Jar. Well, I like almost all of those, so good work, U.K. readers. This uptick comes as the bookstores finally closed their in-store locations due to staff’s fears of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Waterstones also reported a boost for lengthy modern novels, headed by the new bestseller Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, but also including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and The Secret History, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Dystopian tales are also selling well, particularly Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

I think it is totally great that people are doing this. I just started reading the first book in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, because there are twenty-one books in the series, and if I like it, I’m sure that will take up countless hours of my life. I’ve also thought about rereading Lord of the Rings or finally tackling Swann’s Way. However, at the same time, I’m thinking about the bookstore workers at independent stores or big chains like Barnes and Noble, where their workers aren’t getting paid.

I used to work at both Barnes and Noble and NYC’s largest independent bookstore, The Strand. I still have a lot of friends and loved ones who work there. While these online sales are great for the company, will it protect their employees so that their jobs will be waiting for them when they come back? As someone who has worked in book retail, I can say that a lot of people really, really, love books, but do not value bookstore workers.

In fact, many of these stores no doubt would have stayed open if the staff didn’t speak up about their concerns, or the government didn’t mandate that they close.

Enjoy your quarantine reads, and I’m glad that so many people are picking up books, truly. Books are a great form of escapism, and since people do value that in a crisis, it’s no wonder these stores are doing well. Just remember that the employees are people, most of them also value books, and that your book elitism doesn’t make you fancy.

Also, for the record, Ulysses isn’t a bad book. It’s just James Joyce, which means it could have been edited down and still have been excellent, just, you know, less.

What are you reading?

(via The Guardian, image: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.