It recently came into my head to start a book club.
A marvellous idea, I thought, to discuss a shared interest and imbibe several bottles of wine while arguing over whether Patrick Bateman was actually a serial killer or if Bella should have ended up with Jacob or Edward.
(Good God- American Psycho to Twilight. That’s a stark contrast. And for the record we will read neither of those books as they’re both horribly confronting in their respective violence/soppiness. Anyway.)
I asked a friend about the prospect and she agreed, enthusing about the possibilities of baked goods and Popular Penguins, and it all seemed to be coming together nicely.
Then it was time to invite others to join.
We pored over a list of mutual friends, always asking the same question: “Does s/he read?”
Too many times the answer was no.
This upsets me, this apathy towards books. Maybe it’s because it was forced upon us during school, but too many of my acquaintances will happily declare they “don’t read, apart from (Vogue/Grazia/the train timetable.” They say it like it’s something to be proud of. Others will be slightly more apologetic or defensive, swearing they don’t have the time.
This from people who I know have devoted countless hours of their lives to watching boxed DVD sets of their favourite TV series. How many books could you read in the time it takes to watch all seven series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
(Not to knock Buffy, of course. And interestingly enough, seasons 8 and beyond of the series have been released in graphic-novel form, so my illiterate friends will have to embrace the written word if they want to find out what happens to the Sunnydale kids. Ha! Anyway.)
Say what you will about the tripe that is Twilight, at least it’s encouraging people of all ages to devour 500+ pages of lame-ass-vampire-filled tripe. People who admittedly don’t make a habit of reading regularly.
I blame my mother for this expensive and nerdy habit, but I’ve always been a consumer of books – even the really crappy ones, if there were no others around – and with typical pious, self-righteousness I think a lot of people should read more than they do. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be books, just pick up a bloody newspaper. Or anything that will teach you a little bit more than what colour lipstick to match with your eyeshadow this season. Or what time the train is coming in.
Books themselves are changing, though, and I’m not sure if it’s for the best.
As it does to everything, technology has slowly changed our reading habits and introduced a new focus on digital books instead of the old-fashioned print kind.
As a self-confessed, book-reading evangelist I should be welcoming the arrival of technologies making it more accessible than ever to read. Books are now available online, on electronic readers like Amazon’s Kindle, and in the newest incarnation of iBooks on the Apple iPad.
I can’t help but feel wary of all this new technology though. In many ways electronic reading devices do make books more accessible – books are available cheaper or free in an electronic format. But the devices themselves are so goddamn expensive it feels like a step backward. Like going from paperback to hardback, only a billion times worse.
You could argue that after the initial pain, an iPad is worth it, and cheaper access to content makes it worth the cost. But would you really take your iPad to the beach? In the bath? Camping? Those are probably my favourite places to read a book. The other is when I fly, and all electronic devices have to be turned off during take off and landing. Your iPad isn’t much use to you then.
And if your device has internet access, are you really going to be able to read an entire book? Even when Facebook and Twitter and the billion other social media sites I barely understand but believe people use all start demanding your attention? What if the battery goes flat just when Harry is facing off against Voldemort? WHAT THEN?
(Interestingly enough, I faced a similarly stressful scenario when reading one of the Harry books after my sister and got halfway through the final chapter to find the remaining pages had fallen out. So maybe this problem isn’t limited to digital reading. Anyway, enough undermining my own argument.)
There is one obvious benefit to reading electronically instead of in print. It always frustrates me that you can be sitting in front of a computer whiling away an entire working day doing absolutely nothing, but you can’t pick up a book. No way. It’s like a giant, boldly coloured advertisement to your employer that I Am Doing No Work And You Should Immediately Give Me Something To Do And Possibly Yell At Me. I don’t know how reading Wuthering Heights is any less related to work than Facebook or Solitaire, but turning away from the computer during work time to flick through a paperback will never be well received by your employer.
(Unless you work in publishing and it’s your job. In which case I hate you, you lucky duck.)
So, technology: helping people slack off in the workplace since whenever the internet was invented.
(I should really have Googled that. Lazy.)
But however technology changes, I’ll always have a place on my actual, real-world, physical bookshelf for a bunch of dog-eared, beach-worn, bath-splashed books. I guess I should just be happy more people are reading, even if it’s only a half-assed attempt at novels by Jane Austen that are free because her copyright expired.
Besides, I’m not a complete philistine. I’ve just discovered an amazingly simple way to support my three-books-a-week habit – I joined my local library.
It’s just like the iBooks App Store, only with more old people!