This blog first appeared in the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
I truly believe that all the warnings issued at the invention of television, that we’d never read again because of this easy to use medium, were unfounded. The slightly more recent view that the computer and its insidious hold on young minds would destroy the practice of reading is equally unfounded. How else to explain the rabid consumption of the Twilight series and the phenomenon of Harry Potter with Rowling’s massive tomes bigger than some third graders? Actually I think that the answer to that is pretty simple, give ‘em what they want. And that’s good stories that appeal to young readers. When the imagination is fired up, kids will engage. And so will adults.
I’m here to report that the book business appears to be booming. Kindle, e-books, electronic readers, comic books, whatever form it takes, people are still deeply into reading. Over the past few weeks I’ve been introduced to legions of readers via reading websites. All of them have one thing in common—they are a passionate group of people who identify themselves as Readers. I capitalize that without prejudice. There are sites that allow the voracious reader to catalog his or her books. Library Thing is one such site. Goodreads another. Book Army is a third. Then there are the blogs such as lesasbookcritiques and fiveminutesforbooks. There are professional websites dedicated to hosting book-centric blogs and getting the word out about new books on the market: Bookreporter.com, Booktrib.com, and the wholly lovable Loud Librarian, which is a homegrown sort of page, but you can’t help but love someone with her charm and obvious dedication to the promotion of reading.
People read. It’s such a glorious realization—especially for a writer. The reading public has very catholic tastes, ‘bookshelves’ on these sites hold everything from bodice busters to Pulitzer prize winning non-fiction. By looking closely at the lists of books belonging to members of these social libraries, one can see that there are many readers who find a genre and stick to it. Mystery for example, or romance. But other readers are smorgasbord readers, sampling epics here; classics there, a soupcon of literary thriller, a biography of Marilyn Monroe. There are a few that have more books listed on their ‘to be read’ shelf than in their ‘read’ shelf. A little bit like collecting books and never cracking the binding.
There are also readers who not only take their books seriously, but are active reviewers. This is the mixed blessing of social libraries, everyone’s a critic. Except for the fact that the “review” is in writing, it is not unlike your mother-in-law handing you a bag of books and saying: that one is great; that one you may like; that one put me to sleep. It is subjective and its value lies in getting a book talked about more than the number of stars handed out by the reviewer. I might find the one that put her to sleep riveting and write a review that contradicts her opinion.
Book clubs are another indicator of a national passion for reading. The last time I checked there were over twenty local book clubs. Some are connected to libraries, or the workplace; some are just for women, others are mixed groups. I hear that many book groups actually discuss the books, not just nibble on snacks. Then there’s the proliferation of the One Book/One Town (or island in our case) concept designed to promote literacy awareness. This is where one outstanding book is chosen by a community to be read by as many participants who will read it, and then discussed in groups, A few years ago Chris Bohjalian came here to discuss his book Buffalo Soldier, which was the book of choice on the island. He talked to a packed Katharine Cornell Theater.
We should all remember Herr Gutenberg and his printing press. The moment he made it possible to print books, making them available to the mass market, he handed future generations the key to the universe. People watch television and kids play computer games, but reading—from the page or on a screen—continues to flourish.
A short list of reading websites and blogs: