The new reader is vocal and social. Not simply content to merely love a book, the readers want to actively celebrate what they read. Do you agree?
People read to connect. So for a fleeting time, it is a solitary activity. It is best when there’s just the reader and the words to engage fully with a printed text. Additionally, it’s also ideal that it is a sustained period of time, to fully immerse in the world created by the author. However, at some point, sharing the story, talking through the concepts, and articulating the feelings brought on by the book, becomes necessary. Reading has always been social. There’s no doubt about that. Technology has just made it easier to be heard, to be connected to others, and to know that validation that comes from being part of a larger community of like-minded readers.
From the earliest days of the Internet, people created places to talk about their passions. It was easy to throw html pages together and write book reviews. Mostly the pages were static, and attempts at discussion and comments were clumsy, but the vision of weblogs was there. Blogging about books in the Web 2.0 days, is now big business. Companies like Netgalley, offer preview copies for the mutual benefit of both publisher and reader, and although some blogs disappear, especially as young people move on with their lives, some have great longevity and an impressive fan base. These readers celebrate their love of reading by connecting with readers. A lot of blogs seem to be written by and for young adults, however, there are many aimed at parents of younger children, encouraging them to develop children as lifelong readers.
Once e-readers appeared on the market, a new way to share was quickly embraced. These devices allow readers to highlight and annotate passages, providing a way of tracking thoughts and comments throughout a digital book. It’s also possible to share these notes with others, and there’s an argument that this enhances readers’ enjoyment (not for me). Being able to download these notes to another program like Evernote, makes this useful for students and academics.
As well as blogging and annotating digital copies, readers are able to share and connect via social networking sites. Goodreads is the largest and has become the go-to place for people to track their reading, follow reviews, and find friends. GR was bought by Amazon in 2013, leading to questions about how well a reader’s site would sit against a publisher and retail site, and some of these concerns have proved valid. With over 20 million users, it’s likely the site will continue to grow. Its features are gold to readers: recommendations, customised lists allowing voting, polls and quizzes (all user-created), the ability to create groups, and more statistics and reports than most readers ever need. It’s easy to spend a lot of time there (I know, I do).
What’s more interesting is the blurring of lines between writer and reader. If an author is not blogging, tweeting, pinteresting or blog-touring, they are apparently not making the most of their marketing opportunities. There are so many ways for readers to connect with authors (Skains, 2010), it must overwhelm the writers, and become blasé for the readers. A savvy author, like Neil Gaiman has shown it is possible to connect directly with readers and still remain creative and down-to-earth (Skains, 2010). It’s clearly not every author who can manage this.
Fan-fiction is another pasttime that benefits from the participatory nature of the Web 2.0 environment. It is possible to join very active communities that host stories for free, offer beta readers (also for free), and provide instant gratification for writers who are very passionate about their favourite fictional characters and worlds. Such ability to generate creativity, knowledge, and love for books, reflects how much readers want to connect to others.
There are many ways to be an active, social and vocal reader. I remember a day in 2001 when I received a letter IN THE MAIL(!) from author Cynthia Voigt who replied with two typed pages to my (snail-mailed) fan-gush about Dicey Tillerman and Tish from ‘When She Hollers’. I wonder where that letter is now. It seems a long way from being facebook friends with Michael Gerard Bauer and Monty Boori Pryor, but that memory is still powerful, and to have been able to reach out and connect because of the way her books make me feel, is something I want for all young people.
A Flight of Minds. 9 August 2014.
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Buckley, P J. Photos taken and used with permission.
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