Book Buying, Book Reading, and Book Loving

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October 17, 2018 by libroshombre

Upon my arrival in Fairbanks in 1990, former State Senator Charlie Parr recommended I read “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069” by Neil Howe and William Strauss. Despite my abhorrence of social modeling, the book proved to be a thought-provoking and prescient work, and history continues to bear out Howe’s and Strauss’ predictions based on a four-generation cycle in American history. So Howe’s recent article, “Millennials: A Generation of Page-Turners” – about the strong upswing in print reading among young people born between 1981 and 1996 – piqued my interest. Besides preferring print to digital reading, “Millennials read more than older generations do – and more than the last generations did at the same age.” Howe cites Pew Research Center’s survey findings that 80% of 18- to 29-year-olds read at least one book in the last year, compared to 73% of 30- 49 year-olds, 70% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 67% of seniors.

Moreover, “print books remain by far the most popular book format among all age groups,” with 72% of Americans reading print books, but only 35% reading e-books. That’s why “after years of steady growth, e-book sales slowed sharply in 2014 and have since plateaued.” A contributing factor is that it’s simply harder to read digital books; study upon study show that digital reading is physically slower and comprehending what’s being read is significantly diminished.

Not everyone’s a reader, however, and not every who reads absolutely loves it. Nonetheless, it’s still profoundly disappointing “when someone you like tells you they don’t like to read.” That’s one of the “17 Problems Only Book Lovers Will Understand,” an online essay forwarded by a fellow bibliophile. Other “problems” include “when someone asks you what your favorite book is and expects you to pick just one,” and “when someone interrupts your reading, because, really, a book is basically a Do Not Disturb sign.” Another (“when a book makes you cry or laugh hysterically in public and everyone thinks you’re crazy”) reminds me of a warning from former Fairbanksan Jim DeWitt, a friend and noted book authority, who got me hooked on Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s as funny as another favorite, P.G. Wodehouse, but his humor’s more biting and surprising. Jim cautioned against reading Pratchett on the plane, because the bursts of uncontrolled laughing deeply annoys fellow passengers, particularly in long flights, and I’ve since verified this.

“51 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature,” an online compilation from Jennifer Schaffer included some I can go along with, such as Jane Austen’s “What are men to rocks and mountains,” W.H. Auden’s “If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me,” and Maurice Sendak’s “Let the wild rumpus start!” But Schaffer’s list had a glaring omission by leaving out one of the most beautiful literary phrases ever: that message from the library or bookstore saying, “The special book you’ve been waiting for has arrived!”

Sure, you can buy books from Amazon, but Amazon’s opening bricks-and-mortar bookstores, and one reason is a strong resurgence is occurring among small independent bookstores. According to an August 13 NYTimes article, Barnes & Noble has closed over 500 stores and are retooling for “smaller ones in more highly trafficked areas.” Once Borders, B&N and other big chains were accused of driving small independent bookstores out of business, and “between 1995 and 2000, the number of independent bookstores did fall 43 percent.” Now the American Booksellers Association says the number of independent bookstores has risen from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,470 in 2018. The article quotes a specialist on the topic, Harvard Business School’s Ryan Raffaelli, saying, “The indies decided that rather than trying to compete on price and inventory, we’re going to provide our customers with a curated experience that’s hypersensitive to the customers in that community.”

Despite my growing distaste for the faddish, overused term “curated,” that sounds to me like someone describing a typical public library experience: knowledgeable book lovers assisting curious booklovers and other information seekers find their perfect books. The bond between book providers and book cravers is immeasurably more intimate in libraries and small bookstores. For, as Emily Bronte wrote, “Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”



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