Til bevillingsoversigt

The Experience of Reading During Covid-19 Lockdowns: Denmark and the UK

Special Research Projects


This project is about the reading of novels under the conditions of the COVID-19 lockdown. We are particularly interested in whether and how the feeling of having more time has or hasn't supported reading. We are interested in what people read (old novels, dystopian fiction, fantasy), in how they negotiated competition between online news and printed fiction, and in how the literary establishment has dealt with live events and meetings being cancelled.

We will compare England and Denmark as settings in which reading has been changed by this event, and we'll ask more generally what we can learn from these two case studies about the relation between reading practices, the perception of having or not having time, and the different balance of work and leisure in our lives today.


It is certain that in the near future, historians and critics will study Spring 2020 as an exceptional period in the history of human culture. One thing they will want to know is how we read during lockdown. This project sets out

  1. to make sure that it is possible for them to answer that question. We are creating an open archive of interviews with readers, reading groups, and institutions that captures this moment in the service of the historians of the future.
  2. We believe that the ways we read (online, on phones, of fiction) are deeply connected to our modern experience of time. We are using this exceptional moment of altered time use to investigate more broadly this important question of how our perceptions of time intersect with the ways and the narratives we read.


Starting in August, questionnaires will be sent to Danish readers via bloggers, libraries, Litteratursiden.dk, and congregations in order to reach as many readers as possible. Informants will be selected for oral interviews and conducted by a postdoctoral student with both individual readers and reading groups. All interviews will be recorded. Subsequently, the most interesting stories will be filmed and made available on our website.

A parallel process will be conducted in England with British Academy funding. We will hold a conference in 2021 in Copenhagen to share our initial results and bring stakeholders in the reading process together. We will publish our findings in academic journals as well on platforms aimed at the wider reader public.


One struggle of the 19th and 20th century has been the reduction of working hours -- although in most countries, it's a reality that has not yet come to pass. We believe that the climate crisis and the COVID-19 situation make it once more conceivable that working less, rather than more, might become larger societal aims. If this is to become a palatable political position, it's vital that we can say what people would with more leisure time.

Reading literature has featured as an alternative to work. For many people, the fantasy of retirement or a 4 day work week is intimately connected to the idea of finally reading Proust. With this project we want to test and revive that environmentally sustainable fantasy and to imagine a future in which working less and reading more are connected.