As a result of the recent NEA study, folks are beginning to ponder why reading numbers are improving rather than declining in this mediated world. In years past, the NEA studies have hit a more somber note that echoed the gloom in the publishing world: Americans aren't reading as much as they were in past decades. Now, however, more people are reading and everyone wants to know why.
I'm 28, too old, perhaps, for things like Facebook and all-weekend parties, but not too old, it would seem, for Stephenie Meyer and her vampire series. Tweens, teens, me, and a whole bunch of women who should be past this stage, are mooning over a vampire named Edward Cullen, and many are pretty happy about it. It's not great literature, as Mom would say, but it's a damn good story.
But there have been damn good stories before, particularly during the decades of the NEA's somber-tuned studies, so perhaps damned good stories are not enough to bring the crowd back to the bookshelves. There must be something else.
In my humble opinion, reading has gotten a heck of a lot more fun because of the internet. This blog for example makes my reading life more interesting and richer than it was in the gloomy years before RRL. Now, I can write about my books, chat with other like-minded readers, who sometimes live in far-off places like Vietnam or Scotland, and gain a greater appreciation for the books I'm reading. Plus, the fansites - Stephenie Meyer's comes to mind - are great for whiling away an afternoon and keeping the atmosphere - and romantic haze - of a favorite book alive.
These days, it's all about the community, and for rugged independents like the typical reader, this is news. No longer are readers straining their eyeballs over books in cafes, dependent on a group of geograhically close friends to share their obsession. Now, conversation, piquancy, and shared passion are only a click away.
The internet has made reading a shared experience, and that's something worth getting into. It's also made it cool, and cool always gets people excited. I used to tell my students this all the time. At this point, it's possible that they may start believing me.