Early Reading Trends of the Second World War: An Industry Perspective
This blog includes temporary free access to Book Reading in War Time. Click here or on the images below to view this report for free until 19th July 2020.
I have always been interested in finding out about someoneâ€™s reading habits and hearing about the books they love. I recently found an article that suggested we have not only been reading more books during the coronavirus lockdown but the type of books we have been reading has changed too. Apparently, we have steered away from pandemic themed page-turners and dystopian tales. That said, the article was written before the prequel to the wildly popular Hunger Games series â€“ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes â€“ had been publishedâ€¦
Mass Observation Online â€“ one of my favourite Adam Matthew Digital collections â€“ reveals how eighty years ago, during a very different period of international crisis, our reading and book buying habits shifted. Book Reading in War Time: Report on Material Obtained from Publishers, Book Clubs, Libraries and Booksellers offers insights into the impact the first few months of the Second World War had on the book publishing industry, our libraries, and the books we were scrambling to read.
The report avoids drawing any specific conclusions about the impact of the war on the publishing industry because the responses were so varied. Despite this, there were a number of shared observations and pressures felt by many of the respondents, such as the impact paper rationing will have on future printing and how nationwide blackouts have encouraged people to read more.
The report suggests there was an increased demand in non-fiction book buying and lending during this period. Librarians noted the popularity of Hitlerâ€™s Mein Kampf and other books about Germany, as demonstrated by the increase in reservation requests. It is perhaps unsurprising that the British public would turn to these non-fiction books to sate their desire to understand more about Germanyâ€™s current affairs and motivations.
One of the trends discussed by publishers that I found particularly interesting was the marketâ€™s attitude towards cheap reprint editions of books. One publisher cites the evacuations and sudden changes to domestic life as a key contributor to an increase in demand for cheap editions from Everymans Library and Penguin. An impact comparable to our current times is the psychological impact of this disruption, and the feeling of isolation felt by readers during the early stages of the war. This feeling sparked a trend of returning to the classics, as suggested by one publisher:
Although my personal reading habits during our times of lockdown and social distancing havenâ€™t steered towards the classics, I can now hear my unread copy of The Count of Monte Cristo â€“ a book I have owned for more than ten years â€“ inviting me to settle down and delve in.