chapter  1
37 Pages

Reading

When Mary Worrall, a Reader Advisory librarian from Solihull in the United Kingdom declared that “reading is the new rock n’ roll” at a Readers’ Day held in Birmingham in 2003, she expressed the excitement that many members of her profession, and keen readers, felt about the situation of book reading in the early twenty-first century. Suddenly, it seemed, reading was fun and sharing books with others was in vogue. Books and book clubs certainly appeared to be everywhere, or, at least, they were represented in places other than just branch libraries, bookstores, and people’s homes. Supermarkets and newsagents sold books alongside groceries. The Starbucks chain of coffee shops hosted book clubs across the US, whereas in the UK shelves of books that could be borrowed or swapped started appearing in pubs, doctor’s offices, and home hardware stores. These shelves were often stocked by groups of readers who had come to know each other in person because of their involvement in the practices associated with BookCrossing. By registering a book on the BookCrossing website, downloading and attaching to it a label showing a unique identification number, and then “releasing” that book into the public domain, a BookCrosser could track the journey of a specific book through several readers’ hands and sometimes across considerable geographic distances. Additionally, online forums within the BookCrossing website enabled readers to share reading suggestions, and to interact socially both on-and off-line. Even as the corporate world jumped on the book club bandwagon, eager readers continued to find innovative means of sharing their love of an activity that has often attracted denigrating labels to its enthusiasts, such as a “book worm.” Whereas some journalists continued to scorn book clubs and the readers who joined them, the media outlets they worked for were using them to sell newspapers or keep listeners tuning in and visiting their websites. By adapting the book club format, the mass media of television, radio and newspapers substantially increased the visibility of shared reading as a cultural activity.