‘Books Have Literally Saved My Sanity’: Readers Respond to Our Letter to the Literary Community
Last month, editors at the Book Review wrote to our readers, expressing our concern for those whose livelihoods depend on books. Readers responded in droves, telling us how literature had helped them during this time of fear and instability, and sharing how they were supporting local bookstores and authors. One common theme: Books are a way to bring us together, even in these worrying times. Below are some of those responses, which have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Notes from authors
‘I am discovering, every day, that I am not alone’
I am an author whose debut book, “The Other Madisons,” was sidelined by the coronavirus. After nearly 30 years of research, writing, and soul-searching, I had been thrilled to know that my memoir would be published and I would be heading out on an exciting six-week book tour. My book was published on the scheduled date, but that same day, the governor of New Mexico, my home state, put in place her shelter-at-home order, and my five stages of grief began. Denial: The governor’s order could not possibly include me. Sharing my book is not nonessential. The world needs it! Depression: My life’s purpose will never be fulfilled now. Acceptance: I can’t go on the book tour of my dreams, but I can reach potential readers through podcasts, radio interviews, magazine and newspaper articles and Zoom (a godsend).
There should be a sixth stage: Renewal: I am discovering, every day, that I am not alone and that fellow readers and authors are caring, supportive, resourceful people.
‘Where other authors are looking at the peril of their first, for me, it’s the fate of my last’
I’m a writer with a book scheduled to come out during the pandemic. Not a first book — my third. But it’s twenty years since the second, it’s taken three years to write it, and I’m 85, so where other authors are looking at the peril of their first, for me, it’s the fate of my last at stake.
Why did I head this email “grief”? You used the word “mourn” in your first paragraph, making you one of the few commentators I’ve come upon who fully recognize our situation (which is everyone’s) for exactly what it is — the mourning of grievous loss, the worst kind, sudden loss, almost between one day and the next.
I end as I began, with thanks.
‘I won’t throw my hands up and walk away’
For the first time in my career I was offered fees for a library appearance — not a large amount, but more than the nothing I usually receive from readings. The governor’s shelter-in-place order coincided with my receiving the payment from the library. It hasn’t happened yet and I don’t know when I’ll see the money, if at all.
I never thought I’d be able to live off my writing, but I won’t throw my hands up and walk away from something that has sustained me for years.
The other casualty is the upturning of a routine. Working from home has made coming home to write less a joy and more of sitting at my desk and being too tired to write. Who knew working from home would be worse than a commute?
I shouldn’t complain. I have a secular job, for now, and I know that whatever income I make from my writing it is more than what I have now and I’ll be grateful for it.
‘My novel will not find the audience that I had hoped to reach’
I am one of those authors whose first novel, “Goshen Road,” was released in late January from a small press in Ohio. I had a few events scheduled for February, and a full calendar of events in March, April and May — all of which have been canceled, of course, and rightly so. Although my book had some excellent reviews by regional authors and a mention in Booklist, the only way that I could figure out to build an audience for the book was to book myself into local libraries and bookstores, call local newspapers to cover those readings and events. Now, of course, everything is up in the air, and I fear that my novel will not find the audience that I had hoped to reach.
‘I struggled not to cry’
When I read, “Our hearts go out to authors … many of whom spent years, perhaps a lifetime, waiting for the dream moment,” I struggled not to cry. My debut young adult novel, “Big and Bad,” was released on the last day of March as the crisis was peaking. My hard-won readings, signings, and festival appearances — all canceled. I’m a middle-school teacher, and this book has been a tremendous labor of love, and represents a chance that might not come again. My hope is that when this thing passes, someone will put together a list of “Twenty Best Y.A. Debuts You Missed During the Pandemic!”
‘The pain has been acute’
I was very moved by your message. I’m fortunate not to be facing an on-sale date until the fall, but many friends are struggling with spring and summer release dates and the pain has been acute. Your recognition and support was so meaningful.
‘Readers indeed can still turn to books’
I’m a reader, but I am also an author impacted by the state of things — I had a paperback release on April 7 and the multi-city tour I was to go on has been scrapped — but readers indeed can still turn to books for entertainment, enlightenment, empowerment, just like we always have. And we must. This is the time to not only feed our souls with books, but to keep all the varied outlets that bring us books well-nourished, too.
‘Books have been my best friends for as long as I can remember’
I love books. My husband and I collected first editions. My husband and I met in a bookstore where I was working one day a week. We would visit and buy books from each city as we traveled worldwide. So much of our time was spent with books.
He’s gone as are those days. Books remain. Thank goodness that books remain.
My heart goes to authors, book store owners and all affected by our shutdown.
‘Books have literally saved my sanity’
I took your article very much to heart, and can say, with all honesty and sincerity, that books have literally saved my sanity. For many, many years, books have been my escape from unpleasant times in my life during two less-than-happy marriages, and a temporary respite, at times, from raising six sons with very little emotional or moral support from their fathers. I think that books have been my best friends for as long as I can remember, which is upward of 70 years. I cannot foresee a day when that will cease to be true for me. I do support a number of authors and booksellers by buying books, which for me is one of the greatest pleasures in my life.
‘Social distancing has turned into a literary adventure’
I have read 81 books since January. The imposed social distancing has turned into a literary adventure for me.
I am giving my support to three independent bookstores: Book Passage, Green Apple Books and the Newtown Bookshop. All three are hosting virtual meetings and have developed ways to donate money in addition to book purchases. They have all stepped up with innovative solutions and should be commended for tirelessly supporting their people and securing their future during this difficult time.
The virtual author talks are definitely a vehicle to introduce new authors as well as new books by well established authors. The recent author talk by Isabel Allende at Book Passage was attended by over 6,000 people. Book Passage is an excellent example of a bookstore utilizing innovative solutions to drive revenue.
I am equally impressed with Libro.fm and how they are banding together with the independent bookstores to drive audiobook sales. This initiative has been very successful and is so refreshing to see.
‘Literature, as you pointed out, can help bridge that gap’
Thank you so much for the heartfelt message you wrote. It helped remind me of the centrality of literature in my life and of supporting the people who produce literature. I’m a native Chicagoan and have friends from New York City who keep me updated, and who are deeply affected by the tragic news; however, I know many people for whom New York (city and state) is a distant dream, and have little knowledge or connection to what is going on. Literature, as you pointed out, can help bridge that gap.
Many thanks and all my best to you.
‘I am grateful for books and the taking away they bring’
My library in Newport Beach, Calif., has set up a system where I can go online and put books on hold and when they become available there is a drive-through system to pick them up, not unlike a fast food place.
I am relying on old favorites like Tana French and Elizabeth George to help me make it through.
As a senior and a lifelong avid reader, I am grateful for books and the taking away they bring in this troubling time.
‘We’ll have had the books, the stories they told’
As a reading enrichment teacher, I’ve been working hard to make sure my students are still reading even though we’re apart. I’m so grateful that I sent the novels we’d been reading together home with them on Friday, March 13, the last day we all were together. Even though we’re not in the same room while we read, we convene virtually to discuss together.
Our governor is likely to announce that school will be closed for the rest of the year. We’ll all be heartbroken. We won’t have the closure we need, but we’ll have had the books, the stories they told, and the lessons they taught. I want to tell the eighth graders to keep their copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (alas, they’re not mine to give away) so they remember that “reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” (Mason Cooley)
In the meantime, we have Zoom and Google Meets and we’ll make do.
‘I feel seen and supported’
Thank you for your beautiful and compassionate email about the ravages upon the literary world at this terrible time. I feel seen and supported.
‘Let’s hope they read good books’
You give a great synopsis of the difficult times in the book business. At the same time it is challenging, if you consider that since most people are home now they have time to read. So let’s hope they read good books. At the moment the books that are in the limelight in the Netherlands are “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers and “The Plague” by Albert Camus — books that more or less describe the times we are living in nowadays.
‘This is one activity that will never stop’
As my family and I absolutely adore and appreciate the written word, we do sympathize with authors and all in the writing and publishing business. I promise we are doing our best to make time for reading during this unprecedented time. As my oldest is herself in the publishing business and working from home now, she and I look very much forward to the afternoon when we can curl up with our book, paper, magazine, etc., and temporarily “escape” from the daily world trauma. This is one activity that will never stop no matter the state of things.
‘For as long as I can remember, books have been important to me’
I’m an editor at Rizzoli Publications and have been working from home, like so many others. I have been quietly wondering how my comrades in the publishing world were doing. Your contemplative piece on the subject, so beautifully written and graceful, was a welcome surprise in my in box. For as long as I can remember, books have been important to me — it’s so nice to hear the voice of a fellow book lover.
How readers are helping
‘I must shore up novels’
I usually limit myself to around $120 a month to buy books on Amazon or elsewhere. Now, I find that my conscience is just fine with my spending more since it benefits writers who need this financial assist. And it helps me, since I must shore up novels for the foreseeable future as I am steadily reading and obeying stay at home orders. A win-win, as the saying goes.
‘Book lovers are trying to help’
Just another example of how book lovers are trying to help: My wife is a librarian at Louttit Memorial Public Library in West Greenwich, Rhode Island. With inter-library loans shut down, the library staff have been loaning out the hard copy books on-hand, using curbside pickup as well as processing e-book requests. Secondly, they’ve been processing new library card requests, which have spiked since the stay-at-home orders were issued. Finally, the staff has been calling elderly members (this is a small community) to see how they are doing, to make conversation, to drop off any food or household items they need. My wife has sewed many face masks and delivered those as well, usually with a disinfected book or two. I realize that public libraries are at the bottom of the book chain, but the people who run them are just as passionate about books, and the people who rely on them, as anyone else.
West Greenwich, Rhode Island
‘Keep up the good work of pushing books!’
I do appreciate your plea to buy books. I myself have purchased five or six from Barnes and Noble and from one local survivor across town in the past week. My library is closed and my book clubs are not meeting in person. One book I bought is by a local author who had planned a book tour. Now she can’t even have a signing at the local store! So please, keep up the good work of pushing books!
‘We are shining a light on authors’
I work in an area of the Library of Congress whose mission is to promote books, reading, libraries and literacy. We do this though book/author programs throughout the year (several of which we have had to postpone or cancel) and of course, through our annual National Book Festival.
During this time, we are shining a light on authors and their books through our new Engage! page.
Center for the Book
Center for Learning, Literacy and Engagement
The article was originally published by Newyorktimes