University of Portsmouth literature expert Dr Ben Davies has contributed to The Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room, which has launched Season One on Instagram today (14 January 2021) – @duchessofcornwallsreadingroom

The Reading Room aims to inspire people to find solace and support in books and to connect book lovers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

The Reading Room will feature Book Club Kits which were created by Dr Davies and colleagues at the University of Copenhagen. The researchers began collaborating on their Lockdown Reading Project during the first UK lockdown to study how reading habits are changing in the face of Covid-19.

To me, reading is a great adventure. 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.

HRH, The Duchess of Cornwall

Season One launches with four books chosen by Her Royal Highness – The Mirror and The Light, Hilary Mantel; Where The Crawdads Sing, Delia Owns; Restless, William Boyd; The Architect’s Apprentice, Elif Shafak.

In a video released to welcome followers to The Reading Room The Duchess said: “To me, reading is a great adventure. I’ve loved it since I was very small and I’d love everybody else to enjoy it as much as I do. 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.”

Dr Davies is a senior lecturer in English Literature in the University of Portsmouth’s School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature.

His expertise was flagged to HRH The Duchess of Cornwall after the lockdown reading project between the University of Portsmouth and the University of Copenhagen was publicised last year. 

Dr Davies said: “More and more people have turned to reading during the pandemic. It’s not just escapism, it’s a chance to think, reflect, engage and encounter. When you read, it’s very difficult to multitask; this is one of the reasons why so many people are rediscovering reading during lockdowns.

“We are all looking for ways to both fill our time and to connect with others, which makes the Duchess’s campaign so timely – reading is not just looking at a screen; it’s an escape from the news, and it’s not elitist; it’s for everyone.”

"More and more people have turned to reading during the pandemic," - Dr Ben Davies, senior lecturer in English Literature 

In March 2020, BBC News reported a significant rise in book sales following the announcement of the first national lockdown, with online sales at Waterstones increasing by 400 per cent.

Each of the titles included in Season One of The Reading Room will be highlighted for a fortnight, with The Duchess’s Instagram account sharing information relating to the book and its author, alongside a Book Club Kit to spark further discussion among readers.

Author Hilary Mantel, whose third book in her Wolf Hall Trilogy will be the first title in The Reading Room.

The author will share her own reading list, including The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale, which Mantel describes as an investigation of “the plague of poltergeists that broke over England just before World War II”.

The Reading Room campaign was inspired by the positive response to The Duchess releasing her reading lists at Easter and in the summer of 2020. The feedback encouraged her to explore the idea of a more permanent community to enable readers to dive deeper into some of these titles, discover new ones, and celebrate literature.

New books will be added in seasonal releases, with the second list expected this spring.

The Duchess of Cornwall has a long-held passion for literature and holds seven related patronages, including the National Literacy Trust and the Royal Society of Literature. She hopes The Reading Room will encourage people of all ages and abilities to explore new books, creating opportunities for connection, engagement, and discourse.