The following article was originally published by Westminster Extra
For much of the last twelve months, we have all had to stay at home for long periods. Instead of being able to socialise with our friends and extended family we have been within our own four walls for the sake of public health.
However, I know from my mailbag, the last year has been incredibly difficult for many people. Their mental health has suffered. People who live alone have been hit particularly hard. I am lucky to have had my immediate family with me throughout lockdown.
One activity that has helped keep me going is reading. It does not matter what it is, fiction or non-fiction, paperback or hardback, digital or physical, for me, books have provided a welcome distraction from reality in the precious spare time that I have had. I’ve recently finished The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel which I can thoroughly recommend.
Others have clearly felt the same way about reading in lockdown. According to book sales monitors Nielsen, there were more than 200 million physical books purchases in the UK last year, an increase of over five per cent on the year before. Other studies suggest though that the gap between last year and the year before may have closed towards the end of the year as people put down their books.
We are still at least three months away from COVID restrictions being completely lifted. At some point in that time everyone will have a low point - some more than one. Reading has helped me a great deal in the last year to unwind and escape from the reality we have been through. I would urge everyone reading this who doesn’t read regularly to pick up a book and escape amongst the pages and forget about COVID-19 for a while.
Long term reading has a huge number of benefits. As well as improving mental health, studies have shown it’s also good for readers vocabulary, can make them more empathic, improve the quality of their sleep and help stave off dementia. Reading doesn’t just have to be for lockdown. People of all ages benefit from making it a regular habit.
Yesterday, was World Book Day. It’s an apt time to start reading, no matter your age. I’ve been working with figures across the publishing industry recently to encourage people to read more in recent weeks. I was lucky enough to also receive a selection of the £1 books which can be bought with the World Book Day book tokens given to 15 million children each year to encourage reading. I was delighted to hand them over to Shaista Miah, from the Westminster Bangladeshi Welfare Trust to hand out to local families.
I also sat down with Cassie Chadderton from World Book Day UK and David Shelley from publishers Hachette UK to record a podcast talking about World Book Day. You can listen to it at www.nickieaiken.org.uk/podcast