Ben Davies, Christina Lupton, and Johanne Gormsen SchmidtMar 4, 2023
Reading Novels During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Oxford University Press 2022
Drawing on an ethnographic study of novel readers in Denmark and the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic, Reading Novels During the Covid-19 Pandemic (Oxford UP, 2022) provides a snapshot of a phenomenal moment in modern history. The ethnographic approach shows what no historical account of books published during the pandemic will be able to capture, namely the movement of readers between new purchases and books long kept in their collections. The book follows readers who have tuned into novels about plague, apocalypse, and racial violence, but also readers whose taste for older novels, and for re-reading novels they knew earlier in their lives, has grown. Alternating between chapters that analyze single texts that were popular (Albert Camus's The Plague, Ali Smith's Summer, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre) and others that describe clusters of, for example, dystopian fiction and nature writing, this work brings out the diverse quality of the Covid-19 bookshelf.
Time is of central importance to this study, both in terms of the time of lockdown and the temporality of reading itself within this wider disrupted sense of time. By exploring these varied experiences, this book investigates the larger question of how the consumption of novels depends on and shapes people's experience of non-work time, providing a specific lens through which to examine the phenomenology of reading more generally.
This timely work also negotiates debates in the study of reading that distinguish theoretically between critical reading and reading for pleasure, between professional and lay reading. All sides of the sociological and literary debate must be brought to bear in understanding what readers tell us about what novels have meant to them in this complex historical moment.
Ben Davies is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Portsmouth. He is the author of Sex, Time, and Space in Contemporary Fiction (2016); editor of John Burnside: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (2020); and co-editor of Sex, Gender and Time in Fiction and Culture (2011). He has also published articles in journals such as Textual Practice and Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction.
Christina Lupton is a professor at the University of Warwick and the University of Copenhagen. She is author of three monographs: Knowing Books (2012), Reading and the Making of Time (2018), and Love and the Novel: Life After Reading (2022), and numerous articles on the topics of reading, time use, and the materiality of books.
Johanne Gormsen Schmidt holds a PhD in literature from University of Southern Denmark and is currently a postdoc at the University of Copenhagen. She is the author of several pieces in the fields of literary sociology, comparative and Scandinavian literature, and uses of literature. She is editor of the literary journal Passage.
Daniel Moran earned his B.A. and M.A. in English from Rutgers University and his Ph.D. in History from Drew University. The author of Creating Flannery O’Connor: Her Critics, Her Publishers, Her Readers, he teaches research and writing at Rutgers and co-hosts the podcast Fifteen-Minute Film Fanatics, found at https://fifteenminutefilm.podb... and on Twitter @15MinFilm.