Any serious reader is never satisfied with how much they’re reading. They’re more likely to be anxious and perturbed by the ever-growing stack(s) of books that threaten to blot out the season’s weak winter sun.
Still, few readers have a to-read list to rival that of Times critic Dwight Garner, who says he gets about 25 books a day in the mail and that it takes him on average 8 hours to read one. Do the math.
Here’s a few of the better lines from a recent interview with Garner:
One doesn’t review one’s friends. Having said that, “friend” is an elastic term.
A lot of books are like first dates. You know in 25 seconds if it’s going to work out.
[On whether he reads every page of every book he reviews] I do. Out of moral obligation. Also out of fear. You don’t want to miss something crucial. You want to be definitive in your pronouncements. You want to be able to write things like, “Not once in 350 pages does Mr. Borges huff paint.” You don’t want to worry about a huffing scene on Page 211 that you skipped over.
It seems like the youth of America are about the only ones still reading these days. According to NPR:
Young Americans are more likely to have read a book in the past year than their older counterparts, a new study finds. According to data from the Pew Research Center, “88% of Americans under 30 read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of those age 30 and older.” The findings go against the oft-repeated narrative that the Internet is degrading the reading habits of the young (those millennials supposedly Snapchatting themselves into a cultureless stupor). In another surprise, people under 30 were also more likely to say that there is “a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the internet.”
Bookstores are filled with new and ever-burgeoning series of novels targeted at the young adult market, not to mention slightly simplified versions of nonfiction bestsellers like Unbroken. In other words, this is a big and potentially growing market.
Also, young readers are generally being given more latitude in terms of the subject matter deemed appropriate. Jack Zipes’ new translation of Grimms’ fairy tales from Princeton University Press makes a point of including some “gruesome” additions previously unknown to modern readers:
How the Children Played at Slaughtering, for example, stays true to its title, seeing a group of children playing at being a butcher and a pig. It ends direly: a boy cuts the throat of his little brother, only to be stabbed in the heart by his enraged mother. Unfortunately, the stabbing meant she left her other child alone in the bath, where he drowned. Unable to be cheered up by the neighbours, she hangs herself; when her husband gets home, “he became so despondent that he died soon thereafter”. The Children of Famine is just as disturbing: a mother threatens to kill her daughters because there is nothing else to eat.
Whether or not any children will be read these as bedtime stories remains to be seen. But in any case, if you’re looking to sell books, write with the youth market in mind.
Most people who read as children have fond memories of the bookmobile. One had normally thoroughly ransacked the age-appropriate shelves at the local public library and the thin offerings in the school itself. So having an RV pull up with an appropriately stern librarian with some new offerings (or at least the old offerings newly presented) was manna from heaven.
In Portland, Oregon, a phenomenal little nonprofit group is taking that idea in an entirely different direction. Street Books is a small band of dedicated booklovers who spend a few hours each week bicycling books around to the city’s homeless population. From the Times writeup:
The Street Books project is nothing if not messy. The librarians — the three salaried employees, including Ms. Moulton, are paid $60 a week for a three-hour shift — fill their carts based on their tastes and their patrons’ tastes.
Diana Rempe, 48, a community psychologist who recently completed her Ph.D. and pedals the bike one afternoon a week, stops at a day-labor assembly site on the city’s east side, where many Mexican and Latin American men gather, waiting to be hired. So she loads up on books in Spanish. (Her proudest book coup, she said, was getting a hard-to-find book on chess moves in Spanish for two Cuban players.)
You can donate money here, or email them and ask about donating books that people have been asking about.
Wigtown, book town (Shaun Bythell)
Hey, wanna run a bookstore? If you can get yourself over to Wigtown in beautiful, not-independent Scotland, they’re giving away the chance to learn all the ins and outs of the trade. According to The Bookseller:
The Open Book project will invite interested parties to apply to live in and run a local bookshop, renamed The Open Book, for a period of up to six weeks. Anyone is invited to apply, with preference given to artists, writers, thinkers, and “bibliophiles”. Participants will be given a crash course in bookselling and will be asked to contribute to a blog outlining their experiences, as well as keeping the shop open for a set number of hours a week.
Check it out. Wigtown (it’s Scotland’s National Book Town, don’t you know) is on the western shore, looks remote and positively gorgeous. You’ll get a lot of reading done and perhaps learn why booksellers are both frequently grumpy and at the same time highly content with their lives.
Does this list say something about who’s using Facebook? In yet another of the listicles that they’re famous for, BuzzFeed shows the Top 20 books most beloved by Facebook users. With the exception of the number one pick (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?), it’s pretty much what you would expect:
- Great Modern Novels I Had To Read In School But Actually Liked (1984, The Great Gatsby)
- Books That I Read 50 Million Times As A Child And Whisked Me Away Somewhere Magical Each Time (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Anne of Green Gables, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lord of the Rings)
- Actual Classics That Tend Not To Be Assigned In School Anymore (Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice)
- Self-Help Creed Masked As Literature (The Alchemist)
- The Only Book I Read In The Past Few Years (The Hunger Games)
- Outlier (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Bible)
When you dig into the full dataset that Facebook made available, particularly the full Top 100 list, a few more surprises pop up. There’s a heavier sprinkling of modern YA, plus the occasional religious text (The Book of Mormon). But what’s fascinating is just how overwhelmingly genre the list is, compared to what it might have been a few years ago. Even though many mainstream readers barely know who they are, Terry Pratchett, Orson Scott Card, Alan Moore, Robert Heinlein, and Robert Jordan all make appearances here.
This begs the question: Are Facebook users geekier than the population at large, or as the percentage of adults who actually read books falls every year, are genre fans just the ones more likely to keep reading books as opposed to tweets?
Also: is it a problem that the number-one book is Harry Potter? After all, according to Scientific American, children who were read to from those books acted more compassionately afterwards.
Batgirl, when she’s not shelving (courtesy DC Comics)
Readers of genre fiction—particularly science fiction and fantasy—have a special place in their hearts for bookstores, libraries, and other (preferably dark and quiet) repositories of the written word. While librarians would seem to most like a prickly breed, they tend to show up in works of the fantastic as heroes, or at least very valuable allies.
Thanks to the smart folks at Tor, here’s a look at some of the more awesome fantasy/sci-fi librarians, ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Sandman comics.
It’s a solid list, all in all (even if it does miss out on the omnisciently Jeeves-ian Librarian from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash), though they do pale in comparison to Barbara Gordon, the occasional librarian otherwise known as Batgirl.