Romance novels, nonfiction kids books and feel-good books are what Douglas County readers are going for during the pandemic.
“Where we’ve beefed up is the contemporary romance section,” said Anne Paulson, a bookseller at Cherry Street Books in Alexandria, which doubled its stock of the genre from one to two shelves.
Last week, Bizjournals.com reported that market research company The NPD Group found that the traditionally-published romance book category rose 17% from January to May, reversing a steady decline since 2012, and that Harlequin was hiring more writers.
Paulson said in their store, readers aren’t so much into the Fabio-covered bodice rippers of previous decades. They’re reading books by Emily Henry, Talia Hibbert and Minnesota writer Abby Jimenez. Instead of “pirates or highlanders,” she said, these books might even delve into contemporary issues involving gender and race.
“It’s sort of a new type of romance,” she said. “It seems to be more young and hip, with scenarios involving social media. More modern.”
The bookstore does carry some pandemic-related books as well as books about politics, and they are selling, but mostly readers are looking for an escape, Paulson said.
“People want fiction. Mysteries. A lot of historical fiction,” she said. “They want feel-good books. Honestly, those are what are selling.”
One favorite has been “The Day the World Came to Town,” about how airplanes ended up landing in a small Canadian town after 9/11.
Early on in the pandemic, the independent news organization The Conversation polled 500 Americans about how they were coping. Reading ranked sixth out of 29 coping mechanisms, after watching TV, talking with friends, exercising/physical activity, consuming news/checking for COVID-19 updates and engaging in a hobby.
At the Douglas County Library, non-fiction juvenile lending is up as more families are teaching their children at home because of the pandemic, said children’s librarian Sarah Wethern.
“They come in once a week now and they check out a lot of books depending on what they’re studying, whether the desert, or Mexico,” Wethern said. “We have families with special bags, library bags, and they hold 100-plus books.”
Tammy Schmidt, the library’s assistant director, said people are also checking out books on holiday-related cooking.
Janice Tolifson of Alexandria, a retired receptionist, left the library on a recent afternoon with “A Reluctant Belle,” the second in a trilogy about three sisters trying to hang onto their plantation after the Civil War.
During normal times, she would exercise more, she said, but the pandemic has kept her at home and given her a chance to indulge her love for books.
“I probably read more,” she said.
Lisa Timmerman, a mom from Alexandria, was looking for Humphrey the Hamster books her daughter hasn’t yet read. All three of their family members are readers, she said.
“I think we’ve been reading a lot more just because we’re home a lot more,” she said.
Tom Quam of Glenwood said he didn’t have time to read before retiring from a bank last year. Now he has his library card. Given that his Bible study has been postponed until the end of the year and some of his and his wife’s travel plans have fallen through, he will likely have more time to dip into one of his favorite topics, history. On a recent day at the library, he was holding “The Indian World of George Washington,” by Colin G. Calloway.
“History is much more fascinating, way more brutal, than anything fiction writers come up with,” he said.
To entice readers into the land of books more, the library has started offering prizes for its winter reading program through Dec. 24. Called Snow is Falling, Books are Calling, the program offers a prize to those who read four books, then another prize for finishing four more books, said reference librarian April Ristau
“If they read 12 books, they get their name in for a basket of goodies,” she said.
The program is for anyone who visits the library.