I ONCE wrote on this very page that my New Year resolution was to read War and Peace. Four years on, the spine of that book remains unbroken.

It was on telly at the time so I bought the book. There’s a lovely photo of the cast in period costume on the cover; it looks nice on my bookshelf, but I’ll never read it. Has anyone actually read it? I know someone who once tried and gave up less than a quarter of the way in.

I guess if there was ever a time to try and conquer War and Peace, it would be a winter lockdown. But it’s not exactly a book to curl up with is it?

I have been reading plenty of other books though. Reading has been my solace in lockdown. “Always have a novel on the go,” my old English professor used to say, and I pretty much always have, ever since I read my first Ladybird book.

Being stuck at home for months on end, I’ve been reading more books than ever. Mostly my usual mix of contemporary fiction and memoirs, but I’m also making an effort to tackle some of the literature I really should have read by now (Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was the latest on my ‘high brow’ list). And for comfort reading I’ve returned to a couple of childhood favourites which are just as lovely as they were first time around.

Many of us are turning to books in these grim times. The Reading Agency says a third of adults are reading more now than before lockdown, with a spike among young people (almost one in two of 18 to 24-year-olds). Most of the reading matter is fiction, according to the Reading Agency, with crime and ‘plague titles’ most popular. And with publishers reporting large rises in classic literature sales, it seems I’m not the only one using lockdown to finally tackle some of those novels (War and Peace excluded) that we say we’ve read, but probably haven’t really.

This surge of lockdown reading has led to a rise in online book groups. The Duchess of Cornwall recently launched her Instagram-based Reading Room and declared reading a “great adventure” as she announced the first four titles. “You can escape, and you can travel, and you can laugh and you can cry. There’s every type of emotion humans experience in a book,” said Camilla.

Each of the titles will be highlighted for a fortnight with information about the book and its author, alongside a Book Club Kit - a set of questions exploring themes of the novels to spark discussion. The kits have been created as part of the Lockdown Reading Project, a collaboration between the universities of Portsmouth and Copenhagen exploring how reading habits are changing in the pandemic. “We’re interested to see how are they reading - in short bursts or long periods, alone or part of a virtual collective - and how the slow unfolding of time often associated with novel reading intersects with the feeling of time during lockdown,” says researcher Dr Ben Davies.

I’ve noticed a shift in my reading habits in lockdown. While I still love the solitary aspect of escaping into a book, I also feel a need to connect with other readers. So, like many others right now, I’m enjoying the shared opinions - and broader reading experiences - of an online book group. It’s almost like having a social life again!

Books can be extraordinarily powerful in connecting us. I’ve bonded with people over a shared liking of particular books or authors, and friends and I occasionally recommend titles and buy them for each other. In this anxious time of social isolation, the connectivity of books is as welcome as the release, escapism and distraction of reading. It’s good to be on the same page.