Anyone who goes skulking about in the wilds of Bloggieland knows it’s a jungle out there. At first glance, the tangled web of celebrity sites, political rants, sports venues and soft porn seems impenetrable, possibly dangerous and just slightly distasteful.
But given enough time, a willingness to keep cutting away at the undergrowth and perhaps even the lucky discovery of a knowledgeable guide, the intrepid explorer will find real treasure – little patches of civilized discourse hidden away behind the twisted curtains of cant and rant. A bit isolated, often with relatively few visitors and with much lower profiles thanBoing Boing or Gawker, they’re welcoming communities that show real hospitality. Happy to entertain folks who just are passing through, they’re equally willing to support people who think they might like to stop, set and stay a while in such a comfortable place.
The world of book bloggers is one of those patches of civilized discourse. Filled with people who are passionate about books, it offers opportunities for companionship to people who feel out of step with a world where “reading” is associated with fast food menus, press releases and Facebook posts. Equally important, book bloggers offer encouragement to those who once read, stopped reading for one reason or another, and now would like to begin again.
It’s common to think of reading as a solitary experience, but in the world of book bloggers, that’s not necessarily so. Book bloggers write reviews, participate in group reads, recommend books to one another and follow authors like Jane Austen, Dostoevsky, Haruki Murakami and Pablo Neruda with the intensity of Lady Gaga fans. Like 1950s book clubs and 1850s literary salons, their blogs are gathering places, open to all who think the most magical words in the world are, “Once upon a time…”
It seems a sad fact that reading isn’t for everyone these days, and there are plenty of sociologists, economists, educators and corporate apologists for the publishing industry ready to tell us why that might be so. Luckily, we also have authors who are willing to hold forth on the subject. Their insights often are the sharpest and their arguments among the wittiest and most cogent. Take, for example, this passage from an Ursala Le Guin article written for Harpers magazine.
In its silence, a book is a challenge: it can’t lull you with surging music or deafen you with screeching laugh tracks or fire gunshots in your living room; you have to listen to it in your head. A book won’t move your eyes for you the way images on a screen do. It won’t move your mind unless you give it your mind, or your heart unless you put your heart in it.
It won’t do the work for you. To read a story well is to follow it, to act it, to feel it, to become it — everything short of writing it, in fact. Reading is not “interactive” with a set of rules or options, as games are; reading is actual collaboration with the writer’s mind. No wonder not everybody is up to it.
For those who are “up to it”, or would like to become up to it, there are opportunities galore. Two of my favorite bloggers, Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza and Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings currently are hosting longer-term reading challenges. AndDewey’s 24-hour Read-a-Thon, scheduled for October 9 and hosted by Eva, Nymeth, Hannah andTrish, is the perfect opportunity to take a plunge back into reading in the simplest way possible: the commitment of one day, a cleared calendar, a pile of favorite snacks and a bigger pile of books.
To take on a reading challenge, to give oneself over to the utter extravagance of a day devoted to books, to seek out new authors or luxuriate in the familiarity of the old is to affirm, in a very particular way, our humanity. We are people of memory and imagination, connected to the hopes, the accomplishments, the aspirations and fears of those who have gone before, and it is in our books that those imaginative memories are compiled and preserved.
As Le Guin says,
“I like knowing that a hard-bitten Wyoming cowboy carried a copy of Ivanhoe in his saddlebag for thirty years, and that the mill girls of New England had Browning Societies. There are readers like that still.”
Indeed there are. You may be one of them. But even if you aren’t, give yourself a chance. Take a challenge, or dedicate a day. Buy a book. Get a library card. Wander the stacks, and wonder at all they contain. Never mind the flashy books, the new books, the hot little numbers with glossy covers and big-name endorsements. Look for the worn books, the well-thumbed books with crinkled pages and broken backs. They’ve been well-loved, and they have something to say. They’re waiting for you, and time is passing.
Clicking the images below will take you to the home page for each Challenge.
Other useful links are found beneath each image, together with my choices for each event.
To paraphrase the old marketing phrase, “Got Books?”
“If you only read books everyone else is reading, you can only think what others are thinking.”
Haruki Murakami, “Norwegian Wood”
Find the welcome page here.
Find the review site here.
Find book suggestionshere.
My own three choices for this year’s challenge are Shoko Tendo’s Yakuza Moon, Confessions of a Yakuza by Junichi Saga, and a third, non-literary choice, Japanese Mafia: Yakuza, Law and the State by Peter B.E. Hill.
There are four levels of participation available for Carl’s “R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril V” challenge (RIP V), but only two goals: to have fun, and share that fun with others. The general categories include Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror and Supernatural. If there isn’t something for you in that mix ~ well! You already may be dead!
You can find a place to sign up and plenty of reading suggestions here. My own choices include Neil Gaiman’s M is for Magic and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
With so much reading to do, what could be better than a 24-hour Read-a-thon? Explore the FAQs, learn about Dewey and the history of the event, see what the prizes are and get a general sense of things here. Yes, sleeping and eating are allowed, and if you don’t want to participate in the Read-a-thon, you always can sign up to be a cheerleader!
My goal for the day is to do a straight read-through of John M. Barry’s Rising Tide. Then, if I have time, coffee and chocolate left, it will be pure pleasure reading – a little Faulkner, a re-read of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, or Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.
And sometime during the day, I’ll go down to our library. It’s not as beautiful as the libraries I’ve shown here, but it’s mine. Stepping into the hush, I’ll look first toward the main desk to see if “my” librarian is working – the one who was gracious enough not to laugh aloud when I returned as a prodigal reader and asked in complete bafflement what they’d done with the card catalogue. Then I’ll pass by the bulletin boards, the computer terminals and drawers filled with CDs and begin to climb the stairs.
The fifth tread squeaks. The railing, a rich mahogany slab broader than the broadest hand, could use revarnishing. But the stairs are wide and curved, wide enough to accomodate a whole family of readers as they climb up, turn and climb again toward the luxury of the open stacks.
Standing on the top step, there always are decisions to be made. Search or browse? Sofa or desk? Public or private, cocooned into a carrel at the back? The answers are unpredictable as the light filtering down through the high, hazy windows. I never know until the top step which direction I’ll turn. Yet no matter my decision, one constant remains, a conviction as certain as the shelved delights spread out before me, waiting to be explored: rich or poor, young or old, educated or barely literate – as long as these libraries exist, we’ll have books enough for a lifetime.