Thursday, December 4, 2008
One topic I often hear or read about is how to get non-reading adults to pick up a book and dive in. I know I've pondered this perplexing puzzle a time or two myself, and the subject scratched its way to the front of my noggin recently when I read a post by crime writer Dave White. Dave is the author of When One Mans Dies, which just happens to be the book I'm currently devouring. So, with the holidays approaching, and the possibility of stuffing a non-reader's stocking with a paperback gem, what can you do to spread the joy of a good book?
Obviously, giving books as a gift is a good option. I'm always trying to expand my friend's and family's libraries with books I've enjoyed. It gives you a new and interesting topic for discussion, instead of always discussing the latest episode of The Biggest Loser (which was totally lame, by the way!). Does it make them go out and read more titles by that author? Sometimes.
Realizing that used book stores are a treasure trove of cheap entertainment is another way. Personally, I'm one of those nerds who scours every copy of a new book at Barnes and Noble, looking for the best copy before laying down my cash. But over the years, I've realized that books are meant to be read, dog-eared, and loved. A beaten-up book is a sign of affection, a sign that the book has been there and back, and when a good mystery novel can be yours for a couple bucks, why, that's money well spent, my friend. If more people knew how easy (and economically savvy) it was to hit up a nearby used book store, would they become more frequent readers? I'd like to think so.
Editor's note: I totally still nitpick certain books. It's a force of habit, and I couldn't stop if I tried.
Of course, the easiest answer is also the cheapest, and if you know me, well, then maybe you predictably saw this one coming like a lazy change-up: get a friggin' library card! I swear, the library has changed my reading habits like nothing else this past year (this is where Brent, who has been telling me to get a card for years now, will roll his eyes). The library affords you the opportunity to read something you would otherwise opt not to, due to cost. I've read nearly two dozen graphic novels from the library in the past five months, all books I would not necessarily buy, but gladly read because I was given the chance. I just finished reading ten - count 'em, ten - Fables trades in a row, all because they were easily accessible at the library. And the library isn't all dusty tomes and Dewey Decimal Systems. It's an online resource, where you can request books from other libraries and renew books over the Inter-web. So tell those non-readers out there to go grab a library book. It doesn't cost them a dime!
Of course, over the past ten years or so, there's been a resurgence in young readers, thanks in large part to that magical wizard, Harry Potter. That kicks ass. In an MTV, hyperfast world where cartoons cause seizures and video games offer prostitution and cop capping, getting kids to sit on their ass and read is hard. Getting them to read a book that can cause serious foot damage if dropped (the thickest Potter tome, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, clocks in at 870 pages - and roughly five pounds) seems an impossible task. But now, kids are devouring books like the dreamy vampire story Twilight (or Dawson's Crypt, as I've heard it called), and young adult books are selling well. The elusive readers are young boys, of course. Publishers like Stone Arch Books are trying hard to lure in young male readers by offering dynamic action stories about sports, or heroes like Superman and Batman.
As for adult non-readers, the only thing close to the Potter buzz in the past decade was, of course, The Da Vinci Code, a poorly written knock-off of the non-fiction book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Was Dan Brown our only hope to get Joe Q. Public to hit the book store looking for a good time? Man, I hope not.
Of course, there's always...I shudder to say this...Oprah. I know. I regret it already. But like it or not, she occasionally uses her powers for good, and even though many of her followers sometimes act like lemmings, she has gotten a large amount of people to buy books. So many readers, in fact, that there are whole sections in book stores devoted to her book club. Should there be? Hell no. If someone is only going to the book store to buy a book Oprah told them to, they should have to find it in amongst the many other classic (and most times superior) novels. Personally, I avoided her book club completely, until I heard she selected The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Still, I didn't pick up the book until after her sticker (does she really need a sticker!?) was no longer on the cover.
In the end, this is really a long-winded question with no answer. Would our culture be more enlightened, better versed, and more intellectually superior if we all picked up a book once in a while? I don't know. But if I can keep putting books in people's hands, with the hope that they'll wander the aisles of Barnes and Noble, Half-Priced Books, or their local library, then my work is done.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to the book store.
Until next time,