Nearly every aspect of our lives has been impacted by the current pandemic: the way we work, the way we buy groceries, even the way we interact with each other. There is no denying that everything has changed—even the way we celebrate (and what we celebrate) is different. It’s not just our day-to-day lives that have been affected either; it’s also businesses, industries, and economies.
Bookstores are just one of the many businesses that have been profoundly impacted by the shutdowns happening throughout the country. Shelf Awareness and Publisher’s Weekly have both made it a point to offer regular reports and updates on the current status of bookstores and the publishing industry; while some of this news is good, some of it is surprising, and some of it is down-right depressing.
One article in particular stands out as a beacon of hope in the midst of the COVID despair: BA Contends Bookshops Are Essential. The article describes how the Bookseller’s Association of the UK and Ireland has called upon the government to categorize bookshops as essential, arguing that books and reading “are a vital way of keeping the nation’s spirits up whilst they’re locked in their homes … the ‘essential’ categorization will acknowledge the crucial role that bookshops play in our culture, economy and wider society.”
The Managing Director of the Bookseller’s Association calls it “a request for an acknowledgment that books matter, and that therefore bookshops matter…our bookshops are lanterns of civilization and, for many, beacons of hope.”
Books do matter.
The French have a wonderful saying: livre c’est vivre—reading is living. In our current world where our interactions and experiences are so limited, books are one of the only remaining ways that we can truly live and experience what life has to offer.
Books have been my solitude, my saving grace, and my reprieve throughout this pandemic. In the moments when it felt like I would forever be stuck in my 670 square foot apartment, not able to explore the city that I moved to hoping for adventure and life in the city, books have been my comfort, my escape. I can travel to a different time and place, away from the harsh realities that constantly surround me; I can learn lessons and receive advice on how to cope with the challenges I face on a daily basis; I can immerse myself in new cultures and ways of life.
A similar article posted by The Guardian describes how the French Publisher’s Association, the French Booksellers’ Association, and the author’s group, the Conseil Permanent des Ecrvains, submitted a joint statement for bookshops to remain open during the lockdown. In their statement they argued, “leave our bookstores open so that social confinement does not become cultural isolation. Our readers…would experience it as an injustice.”
Books are not just pieces of paper. They are gateways through which we learn, live, experience, and connect with one another. As part of their statement, the French argued that books “satisfy our need for understanding, reflection, escape, distraction, but also sharing and communication.”
Groceries are essential to feeding our bodies. Medication helps us heal and live. But books can feed our minds and heal our spirits. Isn’t that essential?