Books have always had the unique ability to whisk us away to other worlds - whether we're sitting in a quiet library, on holiday surrounded by beachgoers, curled up on the couch at home, or waiting for a bus.
But this especially hit home over the past year when we were all stuck inside for days on end - our books provided the perfect form of escapism.
Now as life gets somewhat back to normal, they're providing a sense of community in the form of the humble book club.
Since the pandemic hit and normality became a fond memory, book clubs have surged in popularity, drawing in readers of all ages and backgrounds.
Book club no longer conjures up images of awkward high school kids gathered around hot pizza, Coke in plastic cups and glossy new YA paperbacks (throwing it back to my first book club experience).
In 2021 it looks more like a "wine club with books" - which is what travel journalist Juliette Sivertsen calls her book club, born over a few glasses with a group of girlfriends.
"I started chatting to one of the girls in the group and she asked me if I was reading any good books, and I started raving about a novel I'd just finished during the August Auckland lockdown, called Manhattan Beach," she recalls.
"The conversation continued, and after a few more wines, we decided to start a book club with one of the other women present that night, and invited a couple more ladies to join."
Now it's become a tight-knit group of six women all in their 30s, whose friendships formed and flourished outside the club as well.
"We all have jobs in different industries, from media to finance to dental health. It's nice to mix with like-minded women from different walks of life, but we all share two things - a love for socialising and, of course, a desire to read more books," Sivertsen says.
Forming the club reminded her how important books are. Reading had slipped down the priority list, she admits - it happens to the most avid of readers when life gets busy. But like everything else, the Covid-19 lockdowns changed this too. It brought home the need to immerse ourselves in another world.
"It can be easy to forget about books and just spend any downtime scrolling through social media or watching Netflix or tragic reality TV," Sivertsen says.
"But books - books are different. Books are a special type of escape. And beyond that, they also challenge us and challenge the way we think and feel about people and their situations.
"And when you get the chance to discuss literature in a group setting, it can really open your eyes to other people's perspectives and expand your own horizon."
That's certainly the case with Mount Eden bookstore Time Out, which has its own book club called Lit Reads.
Suri Reddy, who manages the club hosted in the shop's cosy upstairs space, says it's also become home to countless clubs run by people from the community. In fact, most evenings are booked far in advance for different book club meetings, most of which occur once a month.
The Lit Reads book club was formed in 2018 with the aim of getting more young people into reading, but now what started as a small group of five or six has grown to about 20 people per session.
The women outnumber the men and the ages are a mix of young and old, Reddy says - from uni students to retirees.
Gatherings of people with different views can lead to some heated discussions, Reddy dishes, but that's all part of the fun.
"Some of the books we choose can be divisive, but it's important that people can be honest in this space and not feel judged for their opinions.
"It's like that whole idea of a modern coffee house - talking about ideas and politics and current affairs. Book clubs offer that engagement for people."
Reddy says Covid-19 had a huge impact on book clubs as well as the store itself.
"Now more than ever, people are looking for a community of books, to meet in a physical space. Not being able to meet last year definitely had an impact," she says.
And when we can't have physical spaces, there is always Zoom.
Mandy Myles, owner of online bookstore Bookety Book Books, started a virtual book club amid last year's lockdowns, which saw Kiwis joining in from all over the country.
And while she says Zoom wasn't "the most natural of formats" at first, the technology itself was all too familiar after lockdown. Why not use it in a book club setting?
Her monthly Book Talk was something Myles, who is based in Wānaka, wanted to be available to people who didn't have access to a book club near them.
Its members tune in from all over New Zealand, some of whom are already part of clubs that meet in person.
"Usually I kick things off and talk a bit about the book we've chosen for the month. Then we have a discussion and we all have a bit of a chat. Everyone leaves with a massive list of books they now want to read," Myles says.
Everyone is welcome to join Bookety's online club but so far its members are all female, she says. Some are avid Kindle readers, while some are library readers for whom nothing but the smell and feel of a real book will do.
"From uni students to women in their 60s, there are so many different people with different opinions. At first, I wasn't sure if it would work," Myles admits.
But all of them are "so awesome and welcoming. And they bring their friends and they bring people together."
There's a simple reason book clubs are growing, Myles says: "Everyone who reads a good book wants to talk about it."
It's this sense of community that may be the secret to the lasting appeal of book clubs.
A group of strangers become friends as they gather around a story, eager to learn - whether that's in person or on a Zoom call. What more could you want?
Except, of course, a glass of wine.