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What People Are Reading: Top Five Books Sold During the Pandemic Times

As COVID-19 has spanned the globe, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of books people are buying, which is great news for our booksellers who have had to close their doors to maintain quarantine and safe distancing for their communities. We decided to take a look at the most popular pandemic-related titles that customers purchased in the first half of 2020.

The Plague by Albert Camus

First edition of The Plague offered by Rare Book Cellar

First published in 1947 in French as La Peste, by Gallimard, Paris, The Plague concerns a fictional outbreak of bubonic plague in the French Algerian city of Oran on the North African coast and how people react to the quarantine. Set in the 1940s, is it thought to be based on historical cholera outbreaks in the same region. It served as an allegory of the Nazi invasion of France and a portrayal of human resonance in the face of terror and death. The English translation by Stuart Gilbert was published by Hamish Hamilton, London in 1948. First American edition by Alfred A. Knopf in 1948 with a jacket design by Jean Carlu, with a Modern Library Edition published the same year 

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

The Decameron is a collection of novellas by the 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio. It contains 100 tales told by the characters, seven young women and three young men, who are sheltering in place outside of Florence to escape The Black Death. Boccaccio’s work is said to have inspired many later works such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the plays of Shakespeare. The Decameron was first printed in 1620, although these later translations were generally incomplete and flawed, many leaving out what they considered vulgar parts of the text. 

The first complete translation of The Decameron into English by John Payne was published in 1886 by the Villon Society.  It was later reprinted by Horace Liveright Inc., US in 1925, and The Modern Library in 1931. In 1930, The Limited Editions Club of New York released a translation by Frances Winwar in an expensive two-volume set. In 1972, a Penguin Classics edition was published.  

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera is an international bestselling novel by Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. It is considered a modern literary classic and one of the best novels of the 20th century. 

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fell passionately in love. When Fermina chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs, but he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies and Florentino declares his love for Fermina again.

It is considered a non-traditional love story as “lovers find love in their ‘golden years’—in their seventies, when death is all around them.”

 Love in the Time of Cholera was first published in Spanish in 1985 with an English translation released in 1988 by Alfred A. Knopf and Jonathan Cape, London.

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Blindness is a novel by the Portuguese author Jose Saramago, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. First published as Ensaio sobre a cegueira in 1995, it was translated into English by Giovanni Pontiero and published by Harvill in London and Harcourt Brace in New York in 1997. 

Blindness is about a mass epidemic of blindness that strikes an unnamed city. As nearly everyone loses their sight from “the white sickness” chaos ensues even as the government tries to contain the sickness and those struck by it. 

A Journal Of The Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe was first published in March 1722. It is a fictional account of the Great Plague of 1655, the last time the Bubonic plague hit the city of London. Although it is presented as an eyewitness account written just a few years after the outbreak, Defoe was just five years old when the epidemic hit the city, although much of the information may have been taken first hand from the account his uncle kept during the plague. 

The Limited Editions Club published an edition of A Journal of the Plague Year in 1968, and Easton Press released a collector’s edition in 1978. 

The Great Influenza The Story Of The Deadliest Pandemic In History by John M. Barry

In 1918 the most lethal outbreak of influenza ever seen infected nearly a third of the world’s population. Nicknamed ‘the Spanish Flu’ its origins are unknown, although early cases were found in soldiers in the US in March 1918 just as the outbreak began. Over 18 months it killed between 20-50 million people worldwide, just at the end of World War I which had claimed the lives of 17 million people. 

The author, John M. Barry, is a professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Originally published in 2004 by Viking Press,The Great Influenza The Story Of The Deadliest Pandemic In History is reemerging as a relevant look at how cities and countries handle deadly pandemics. 

Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky

The 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner in History, Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky explores the race for the cure to Polio, a disease that terrified Americans in the 1940s and 1950s until a vaccine was found by Jonas Salk. The book offers insight into the pioneering fundraising and publicity efforts that were made to fight the disease, from the organization of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in the 1930s to the government’s licensing and handling of drugs, ensuring the safety of the market through legal means. Polio: An American Story was published in 2005 by Oxford University Press.

The Masque of the Red Death  by Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Deathis a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It follows Prince Prospero as he holds a party for all his rich friends while sheltering in place from the plague of the Red Death in his abbey. Safely walled in the abbey away from the unclean masses that are afflicted by the plague, 1000 nobles hold court. In the middle of the party a mysterious guest dressed as a ‘Red Death’ victim shows up, and as he visits rooms the guests die. First published in the May 1842 edition of Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine as “The Mask of the Red Death.” 

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett

First published in 1994, The Coming Plague was a best-seller written by public health expert Laurie Garrett who won a Pulitzer for her journalism on the Ebola outbreak. This book explores how untreatable diseases and epidemics are being created by the conditions of our modern world.

1 Comment

  • A global (all sellers on Biblio) monthly top 500 in terms of volumes sold, book tile, author and ISBN would be very useful. No point is stocking a 1st edition hardcover when you could have sold 10 paperbacks of the same book over the same period.

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