Reading in the Time of Social Media by Lauren Spieller
When I was young, weekend trips to the library were an adventure. I’d charge through the front doors and down the endless hallway, my eyes trained on the colorful mobiles swinging overhead as I made my way back to the children’s reading room. The dark walls would give way to brightly colored murals, and the sensible reading chairs were replaced with tiny plastic seats big enough for only the smallest of bottoms. It was a place for whispered stories and squeals of delight, and it was mine.
By the time we got home, I would have decided the order in which I would devour my many books. I started out with Where the Wild Things Are by the late and great Maurice Sendak then graduated to the Amelia Bedelia series. The older I got, the longer the books I chose, so our trips became less and less frequent. Eventually I must have returned a book without picking out another, because my weekly visits stopped. But I kept reading. Sure, much of my reading list was dictated by my teachers, and yes, my parents would hand me books they thought were important for me to read, but the joy of reading was still there, even if the opportunity to pick my own book was limited to the occasional book report.
Choosing reading material today is far more complicated than picking out a book from the children’s shelves or having an assigned reading list handed to me at the beginning of the semester. In fact, it’s almost a combination of the two: I am able to choose what I read while simultaneously treading through the water of popular opinion and Top 100 Lists.
This has always been true, of course, but something has happened over the last ten years: the internet. Whereas before I was limited to the opinions of my friends and family, librarians, teachers, and the occasional booklist, I now have access to websites like goodreads.com which allow me to see not only what my friends are reading and what their friends are reading, but also what some guy in Detroit is reading. It raises a lot of questions, least of which is the issue of taste. Do I think Emma has good taste in books? If she liked Haunted, will I like it too?
Then there’s websites like Amazon.com, which give me the opportunity to peruse thousands of reviews with the click of my mouse. Kenny in South Carolina thought Gone Girl was unfairly biased in favor of the male perspective. Should I bother reading it, or just assume he’s right and move on?
And don’t forget Facebook and Twitter, which let me see what my friends are reading in real time.
So we have more opinions to weigh. But that’s good, isn’t it? We hear about books we might have never known about. We discover genres we never considered before. And we begin supporting the careers of authors who might not be on the New York Times best seller list, but are still fantastic artists. People have always shared their taste in books, but now we can share our reading lists across cities, states, and even countries, with the click of a button. Perhaps we’ve lost the randomness of finding a fantastic read with the help of a librarian, but we’ve found a worldwide community of fellow readers to share with and learn from. It’s literary globalization, and it’s bringing us closer together through books.
So where’s the downside? We’re discovering new authors, finding new loves. We’re connecting with people over a shared interest: reading. There has to be a catch, right?
Yes. One of the most dangerous things about getting a bunch of people together is Group Think. One voice multiplies into hundreds, then thousands, and suddenly the public outcry that something is worthwhile drowns out the few voices who protest that it’s not. Or worse, the opposite happens: the public decides that a book is lousy, so we miss out on a novel we’d really love.
But is that necessarily a bad thing? Pop culture gets a bad rap, but it’s really only popular because a lot of people like it. Popularity isn’t synonymous with quality, but if five thousand of your closest friends enjoyed Hunger Games, chances are you will too. But the publishing industry controls everything, so we only get what they decide is worthwhile! The publishing industry decides what is published, sure. But it also listens very carefully to the desires of readers, otherwise it’ll fail. The industry is also under even more pressure these days to produce wonderful books, since self-publishing has become so popular (and yes, I’d say that you can add self-publishing to the list of wonderful things brought to us by the digital age. But that’s another story).
So I say unto thee: Blog on. Tweet forward. Explore the riches that goodreads, Amazon, and Facebook have to offer. Keep the social in social media, if you’ll forgive the lameness of that expression. But talk to your friends too. Ask your mom what she’s reading. Steal a book off your best friend’s coffee table.
Go to the library.
Thanks for reading.
Lauren Spieller is a writer living in Los Angeles. She also works as an intern for a literary agency in NYC. Her current project, Sightless, is an urban fantasy novel for Young Adult readers. When she isn’t writing, Lauren works in fundraising for a university. She is also interested in interior design, reading everything she can get her hands on, eating, cooking, and yoga. Visit her website or connect with her on twitter: @laurenspieller.
Read is the spot to share your book recommendations, reviews, lists of absolute favorites, and thoughts on anything reading or writing related in general. Share yours here.
There's nothing we love more at Shelf Pleasure than a ..
Author and Shelf Pleasure contributor Karen A. Chase on how ..
One of author Mary Miley’s favorite things about being a ..
Author and police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D., weighs the pitfalls ..
Little known fact about Shelf Pleasure's Kristen: she's obsessed with ..
Although Debbie De Louise has been a librarian and avid ..