Reading in the Time of Pandemic
Longtime Bookshop Benicia proprietor Christine Mayall has never had a year quite like 2020.
Her bookstore on First Street is a veritable fixture, having moved from the Southampton Shopping Center in 2012, where she first set up shop in 1993. Her cheerful store has a wide selection of books for children and adults, as well as book-related merchandise. This merchandise includes items like toys, cards and gifts. Book signings, book clubs, book reviews and other literary events were commonplace. They welcomed book orders and online sales. Business was booming at Bookshop Benicia, and then the pandemic hit.
People were too stunned and distracted to concentrate much on reading in the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Suffering from news overload, facing isolation from friends and family, and discarding one’s daily routine, threw everyone for a loop.
As the days and weeks passed, people became accustomed to the pandemic lifestyle.
They began ordering books; picking them up at the store, and ultimately staying home more, Christine noticed that people were reading about other pandemics, in particular the 1918 Spanish Influenza. Science fiction that pertained to dystopias, other worlds and fantasy universes also drew readers. Mid-May, the store reopened with limited shoppers and the requisite facemasks. Christine noted that readers began binge-reading books much as they were binge-watching television series. The main choices were comfort books, favorite authors, beloved classics and lighter fare. As the summer wore on, non-fiction titles dealing with racism and politics became popular, reflecting issues Americans are facing nationally. Now that school is online, Christine has found many parents purchasing books, workbooks and other materials for their school-aged children.
Benicia has always had a reputation as a reading community.
Benicia Unified School District has continuously had stellar test scores and an enviably high standing in the state. BUSD is aligned with community activities such as Benicia Reads, an early literacy program that offers support for all children from birth to age five, and community programs with the Benicia Public Library, as well. The consequence of this enlightened community attitude and support for reading is that Christine’s Bookshop Benicia is not facing financial failure like other area bookshops, and is solvent, so far. Benicians understand that small businesses underscore and extend a desirable quality of life in a community, and show their regard for restaurants, mom and pop stores and independent bookstores with their much-appreciated patronage. And this attitude benefits us all.