If there’s a silver lining to the sudden need to hunker down as the novel coronavirus upends normal life, it’s that maybe—finally—you’ll have time to read. Provided you have enough books.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to access new reading material without leaving the house, and to stay engaged with the bookish community even as libraries and bookstores shutter their doors. Here’s a guide.
Take advantage of free library resources: Many libraries are closed until further notice, but you can still tap into their tools—even if you don’t have a library card. OverDrive, a company that works with thousands of libraries across the country, offers an “instant digital card.” Sign up and start browsing an impressive collection of e-books and audiobooks.
OverDrive’s Libby app makes it easy to download your picks to whatever device you prefer: Stream an audiobook on your Google Home, for example, or send a book to your tablet or Kindle. Beware that there aren’t unlimited digital copies, so there’s often a waitlist for popular titles. Once your request comes in, you’ll typically have access for seven to 21 days.
Ramiro Salazar, president of the Public Library Association and director of the San Antonio Public Library, says libraries have a “history of rising to the occasion, and that’s what we’re doing right now.” He asked his staff members to look into expanding their books-by-mail program, for example, a longtime service that provides books to those who are homebound. And he said libraries nationwide are working to shorten wait times by increasing the number of digital books available to patrons.
Order from your favorite indie bookstore: Bookshop.org is a recently launched website that shares proceeds with independent bookstores. In the Richmond area, these include bbgb, The Little Bookshop, Book People, Chop Suey Books and Fountain Bookstore; check their social media for details on online purchases and order pickup and delivery.
Trade physical books for audiobooks: Even if you don’t prefer listening to reading, you’re probably familiar with Audible: The Amazon-owned audiobook company has a catalog of nearly 500,000 easy-to-download options, from Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club picks to classics. You can listen on a wide array of devices, or even in a web browser. A $14.95 monthly membership includes any title, plus two Audible Originals. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Another option is Libro.fm, which offers more than 150,000 digital audiobooks of all genres. Membership costs about $15 a month. When you sign up, you’ll select the independent bookstore you want your purchases to support, and typically, the company splits the profits with that shop. Right now, all proceeds are going to the bookstores.
Both Audible and Libro.fm supply ample instructions, and getting started requires little more than a working device and an eager reader.
Click over to websites that provide free books: For decades, Project Gutenberg has made copyright-free e-books available on the internet. Don’t expect to find any current bestsellers, but there’s a rich selection of more than 60,000 older titles that you can download to your device or read in your web browser. The site’s “top 100” list includes “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Library of Congress also offers a selection of free classics you can read online. Many of the choices are kid- and adventure-oriented, such as “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Treasure Island.” After Cambridge University Press made more than 700 textbooks free through the end of May, demand was too high for its website to withstand. There might still be a chance to cozy up with a copy of “Psychopathology” or “Nietzsche,” however. CUP is working to “reinstate free access as soon as possible.”
Attend a virtual book talk: In-person events are on hold, but bookstores are still finding creative ways for authors to engage with readers. Hilary Leichter was scheduled to talk about her new novel “Temporary” at Brooklyn-based Books Are Magic the same day the shop canceled all March events, for example, so staffers pivoted to a virtual version. The shop uploaded a fun, chatty conversation with Leichter (and her ukulele) to its Instagram page. Upcoming virtual talks will feature C Pam Zhang, among others.
Similarly, Washington’s Politics and Prose announced it was launching P&P Live, a series of author events streamed online. Those who tune in can submit questions for the speakers, including Emily St. John Mandel and Bess Kalb.
Participate in an online book club: What to do if half the fun of reading a book is talking about it? Talk from afar. The D.C. Public Library put a virtual spin on its book club: Elizabeth Acevedo’s “With the Fire on High” was up first, and for a few Saturdays, the library hosted Twitter chats focusing on different sections of the book.
Of course, no commute is too long in virtual book-club land. Aside from checking what your local library and bookstores are offering, consider more global options. The Quarantine Book Club, for example, popped up to host online discussions with authors. And the writer Yiyun Li is hosting a virtual club to discuss Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”—follow along at apublicspace.org.
Livestream story time: There are many options for kids, too. Penguin Kids is hosting authors and illustrators who will read their stories on Instagram each weekday at 11 a.m., and the Brooklyn Public Library is livestreaming their story time in the afternoon and again before bedtime. Join on the library’s Facebook page or website.
In Ohio, the superintendent of Medina City Schools is livestreaming story time from his YouTube channel. The books—like Ferida Wolff’s “Is a Worry Worrying You?”—are selected to provide kids with support during such unusual times.
Let A-listers read you a story: Actresses Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner launched #SaveWithStories, a charity-driven initiative in which celebrities read children’s books on Instagram. Brie Larson, for example, read “Giraffes Can’t Dance,” while Reese Witherspoon delivered a spirited rendition of “Uni the Unicorn.” Donations will help the nonprofits Save the Children and No Kid Hungry ensure that kids have access to meals during school closures.