If there’s a silver lining to the sudden need to hunker down as the 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 some bookstores shutter their doors. Here’s a guide.
Take advantage of free library resources like OverDrive. 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.com, a company that works with thousands of libraries around 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 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.
Though physically closed for the time being, the Santa Fe Public Library (santafelibrary.org.) has many online resources available, including e-books, reference question help, and online storytime.
Order from your favorite indie bookstore. Last week, Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, reported that in the previous few days, customers had placed more than 800 online orders — compared to a typical five to 10 a day. Like many independent bookstores, it had turned exclusively to online sales. The small staff was working to process web orders as quickly as possible and thanked customers for giving them a “fighting chance” to weather the unexpected circumstances.
Around the country, many indies are offering local shipping free or for a nominal fee in hopes of luring extra business. In Santa Fe, Garcia Street Books (garciastreetbooks.com) and Op.Cit. Books (opcit.com) are taking phone orders and offering home delivery.
Another option is bookshop.org, a recently launched website that shares proceeds with independent bookstores.
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.
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, like 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 their website to withstand. There may still be a chance to cozy up with a copy of Psychopathology or Nietzsche, however. The press 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. Locally, Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse (collectedworksbookstore.com) is moving some events in their active reading series online. To stream, go to collectedworksbookstore.com or check their Facebook page. 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 Paul Lisicky and Joseph Fink, among others.
Similarly, Washington bookstore 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 Casey Schwartz (Friday, April 17) and Alina Das (Monday, April 20).
Another example of making the best of disrupted plans: Anne Bogel, the popular blogger behind Modern Mrs. Darcy, had to cancel her tour to promote her latest book. So she’s launching the Stay at Home Book Tour, which kicked off March 23 and included talks by authors such as Kimmery Martin and Ariel Lawhon. Archived events are available at modernmrs
darcy.com. Upcoming events are free and open to the first 500 people who log on via the video conferencing platform Zoom.
Participate in an online book club. What to do if half the fun of reading a book is talking about it? Talk from afar, of course! The D.C. Public Library in Washington put a virtual spin on its book club, DC Reads: Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High was 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. Another example is writer Yiyun Li’s virtual club to discuss Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace — follow along at apublicspace.org.
Live-stream storytime. There are many options for children, 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 live-streaming their storytime in the afternoon and again before bedtime. Join the fun on the library’s Facebook page or website. Santa Fe’s Collected Works is streaming a children’s story hour suited for preschool-age kids at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Check their website for more details.
Aaron Sable, the superintendent of Medina City Schools in Ohio, is live-streaming storytime 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.
It’s also a chance for A-listers to 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. — Angela Haupt/Special to The Washington Post and Jennifer Levin