It seems like the days of turning a corner and spotting an undiscovered book shop are a thing of the past. The feeling of roaming through aisles of unheard stories has transformed to accessing any book you’d ever want just at the touch of your fingertips. The traditional methods of book browsing and book recommendations are being swapped for online libraries, downloads and even Facebook groups. Whilst the pandemic has caused many of us to find remote alternatives for the things we love, finding new books was not something I thought would entirely change, and yet, it seems as though my reading list and book shelves have become overflowing through remote alternatives I’ve found to quench my bookish thirst.
Changes in technology over the last decade or so and the boom in online shopping have made my Amazon parcel deliveries part of my daily routine. Despite the guilt I feel for destroying independent book shops, each time I click ‘Add to basket’ the only negative thoughts I allow myself to consider are those affecting my bank account. Which is why when I heard of the Kindle 99p daily book sales, I jumped at the limit of only allowing myself to buy one of the four books that were on sale each day. With the daily email showing the offers, as well as monthly and seasonal discounts, it seems expanding my virtual bookshelf isn’t as costly as it seems.
By saving book funds on Amazon, during lockdown I treated myself to a monthly book subscription box, a feminist one at that: Books That Matter. One of the few joys of the last few months, this book subscription box arrives to my door packed with four treats (one usually edible), and either a classic book in a limited edition, beautiful cover that’ll make me ignore my old one, or an undiscovered read that’ll keep me trapped for days. Having a monthly present to myself to look forward to, at a reasonable cost, has definitely been a highlight of an otherwise very low season. Like going to Persephone Books, a popular independent book shop in London, which features disguised books by neglected mid-twentieth century (mainly) female writers, discovering a favourite book through the complete surprise of not knowing what you’re getting your hands on is a feeling like no other.
With the rest of the world literally accessible through a few taps on my phone, interacting with books has become interacting with people, sharing your own stories alongside the ones you’ve read. Reviewing books and reading those of my friend’s on Goodreads is one way of adding to my reading list, whilst another is a newly discovered app: Borrow Box. I can’t even remember the last time I visited my local library, however, knowing that my library connects to an app, that lets me borrow e-books and audiobooks just as if I were visiting in real life, whilst also reading what other people think and what’s next on their lists, makes remote reading all the more sociable.
Add to that the fact that social media lets you access anyone at any time, Facebook book swap groups have also recently boomed. Making friends through swapping books seems a bit strange at first, but swapping your books for new reads with no added costs (aside from postage) is just another way of refreshing your bookshelf, as well as finally getting rid of the books that have been sitting in the charity pile forever.
Aside from the online book swap schemes, local book hubs have started popping up in my area, with branches all around England. ‘The Local Book Hub’ is something I stumbled upon on Facebook, and is essentially a mini library set up in someone’s front garden, outside a local shop, or on the corner of a high street. Perfect for children, or for just going along to see what’s available whilst depositing your own books for others to enjoy, physical book swap schemes like this remind me that although I won’t be entering an independent book store for a while, there are still in real life ways to find new books, despite this ‘new normal’ we’re all working our way through.
Whilst I’m indulging in remote reading, especially during a time when I’m rarely leaving the house, I’m still wondering on what this means for the independent book shops that are decaying more and more, losing one more customer at every Kindle download. And whilst these remote ways of discovering new reads are enough to satisfy my bookish thirst, it’s still reassuring to know that if I ever do want something specific, most independent book stores are delivering, and it feels much more refreshing to buy from them rather than the classic Waterstones.
Words by Meghna Amin
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