It was a chance to finally get around to Tolstoy or Proust, but the charts tell a different story. Which books did we actually turn to in the lockdowns?

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Back in spring 2020, when it became clear that coronavirus wasn’t going away, book lovers spied an opportunity for a rare, government-mandated reading holiday. Here, at last, was a chance to have a go at Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Robert Macfarlane reported that he was working his way through the great Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Ali Smith urged readers towards Boccaccio’s Decameron. Diana Evans’s thoughts turned “heavenwards” by way of Homer’s Odyssey. I downloaded 27 hours of The Brothers Karamazov audiobook in anticipation.

All lovely ideas. With 20 months of hindsight, however, which books did we actually end up turning to? The bestseller lists from the three different lockdowns may not tell you the contents of Britain’s soul, but then again, the numbers do not lie. We read: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. Sophie Hinchliffe’s Mrs Hinch: The Little Book of Lists. Lots of David Walliams, who topped the Lockdown 1 and Lockdown 2 charts with Slime and Code Name Bananas respectively. JK Rowling: the first three Harry Potter books steadily rose up the charts through the pandemic. Joe Wicks. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. A Pinch of Nom, plus spin-offs. Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

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