Besides video games and Netflix, books are the only things any of us have left to keep us sane besides conversations with our significant others on Facetime. Yes, there’s plenty to do—plenty of options to fill the time in between trips to the grocery store and reading news about the Chinese coronavirus, and books fill a void that otherwise goes unfilled, leaving only anxiety to take its place.
Books are essential in lockdown, but the New Zealand government doesn’t think so. Under the onerous orders of Jacinda Ardern, a leader praised for her ability to lead the country through this global struggle under the auspices of “sympathy, love, and integrity” according to The Guardian, New Zealand has banned the sale of books as non-essential items.
Instead, the premier advises New Zealanders to keep a diary to help with contact tracing, as if they don’t have enough on their minds already that they need to log their every move and rack their brains with anxiety with fears that they might be infected, or worse—infected someone they care about.
Under some of the toughest coronavirus restrictions that would make Michigan’s Dolores Umbridge-like governor look like a kindly grandmother in a Disney movie, Ardern’s government has banned all non-essential shopping and online delivery, and it has done so since 26 March. That’s a long time to go without entertainment.
The government only allows “essential” businesses to operate within this period, so bookstores—even online ones—are relegated to selling textbooks, medical books, and professional books, at least until last week when further exceptions were made to loosen the rules. New Zealanders can now buy books about about personal care, food and drink (because people need to learn how to cook for themselves in this time), and pet care. Educational books are of course allowed.
Despite the partial lifting of the book ban, which is beyond ridiculous for even existing, citizens are still not allowed to buy fiction novels. If you didn’t already take the time to catch up on Steven Erikson’s 10-book fantasy anthology and were hoping to do so during the lockdown, you’re out of luck. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings remain banned. They’re unessential, apparently.
One might debate how “essential” Harry Potter is to literature, but it shouldn’t be the government’s call.
The reason for the ban, one presumes, is to limit the traffic and exposure by postal workers to the coronavirus. But one might also ask why an exception could not be made to those who wish to buy fiction novels so long as they also pick up an “essential” piece of literature within the same order.
You can still buy those books, but they won’t be delivered until the lockdown is lifted, but no one knows when that will be.