During the pandemic, reading took on new meaning. People turned to books for comfort. Some read to confront difficult issues, especially following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Others used reading as a way to care for their children in locked-down houses.
Sales figures and lending data showed a huge spike in people buying and borrowing books. We wanted to follow the stories of real readers, and our new book uses a rare combination of literary analysis and qualitative interviewing to capture these dynamics of reception.
While many commentators at the beginning of the pandemic endorsed reading as a straightforward way to relax, our readers showed that the practice morphed and took on new forms and meanings.
Based on hundreds of survey responses and hours of reader interviews from Denmark and the UK, the study makes the interpretation of literature something dynamic and ongoing. And it suggests that readers themselves are agents of meaning, even in the case of novels that seem the most stable in our culture.