Readers Rule!

Flipping through the April 25th edition of People magazine, I came across a blurb about “The Hunger Games” entitled “Nerds Rule.” The movie had just hit the theatres a couple of weeks earlier; their PR was everywhere and here was, yet, again, more commentary. This had an interesting twist, though. Read on:

“Rejoice bookworms, for we are the most powerful people in Hollywood. Mega-hit series like “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” make studios ever more reliant on readers to know what will sell, which means they have to listen to fans. In the end, Hollywood has a simple choice, really: Surrender or die.”

Point taken. These movies were made because of the popularity of the books upon which they were based, and they’ve generated billions of dollars in profits. So, think about that. The shear number of copies sold had to have been enough to inform Hollywood producers, and their financial backers that a blockbuster production would almost certainly be successful. But . . . are there really that many bookworms out there?

In 2009, an American agency, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), published the results of their most recent survey of the reading habits of Americans: Reading on the Rise. For the first time in 25 years, they had figures to show that the amount of literature read in the United States had increased; the actual number of people reading literature had increased, and the fastest growing segment of readers was young adults, aged 18 – 24. And, that demographic, co-incidentally, is the same demographic responsible for the bulk of movie ticket purchases (stats here).

In Canada, in 2003, the Association for Canadian Studies was commissioned to poll Canadians on their reading habits in the six months prior to the survey. Only 15% of respondents had not read any books at all in the previous six months. Among 18 – 29 year-olds, only 14% had not read a book in that time period but a whopping 44% had read from 1 – 5 books. For the full story, click here.

It’s great to see that literacy initiatives are succeeding; that engaging novels are being written, and that a love of reading is being nurtured.  As the NEA concluded in their report: “Cultural decline is not inevitable.”

Social Media for Book Lovers

In April, 2001, Ron Hornbaker and friends launched a website, BookCrossing, designed as a social media platform for book lovers. Not only was it intended to facilitate endless discussions about books, it was also expected to serve as a lending library. Now, almost 11 years later, with over one million current members and about nine million registered books in 132 countries, BookCrossing can only be considered a success.

How does it work?

Label.  Become a member (for free). Register your book to receive a unique BookCrossing I.D. number. Then, download a label to print out or purchase labels online to attach to the inside of your book.

Share.  Give your book away in a controlled release i.e. either to a friend or at an Official BookCrossing Zone (OBCZ) or release it into the wild by leaving it in a public place i.e. a bus stop bench, a coffee shop table, etc.

Follow.  When your book is caught, the label will encourage the catcher to report the book’s capture by entering the BCID on the website. This allows you to track your book’s journey from reader to reader and, in some cases, from country to country.

The website is filled with ‘how to’ information, member lists, book lists, discussion forums, newsletters, stats, convention info (on five continents, no less) and bios and photos of the people behind it all.

Canada is in the top ten of participating countries around the world with over 47,000 registered BookCrossers. Saskatchewan, my home province, surprised me with 1400 members and, although Saskatoon and Regina host the majority of them, small rural communities everywhere are represented, too.

As I write this, my curiosity is beginning to get the better of me. I just may have to join, if only to release a book into the wild and track its travels. How about you? Tempted?

Biblios

Mystery
Photo by jeanniet6 via morguefile.com

While clicking around the internet for last week’s post, Bibliophiles vs. Bookworms, I learned a new word. It seems books written about books (and libraries and writing, publishing and collecting and bookselling, etc.) are called Biblios. There’s an infinite variety of them, fiction and non-fiction alike, and they’ve been filling the space on our bookshelves for a long, long time.

Murder in the Bookshop

Diane Plumley is a writer for The Bookshop Blog and is crazy for mystery novels. She’s written a series of posts describing dozens of biblios within the mystery genre. She’s also included a couple of links, one to a list of biblios at Mystery Readers International and, a second, to Bibliomysteries, a whole website devoted completely to them. So, if murder and mystery within the book-world are of interest to you, these lists should keep you in reading material for years to come.

Of course, books about books also exist beyond the world of mysteries. Good Reads features an 354 item list (and counting) of biblios with each entry containing the book jacket blurb, the publishing info, a star rating and reader reviews. They’ve listed children’s books, and adult fiction as well as selections from almost every non-fiction category, which makes for a whole bunch of different reading choices. The Fine Books Magazine blog has a 2010 holiday gift list featuring 50 non-fiction books for bibliophiles, and finishes it up with the 10 best fiction biblios published that year.

Needless to say, these lists are not exhaustive, and with new biblios being published all the time, bibliophiles needn’t worry about having an endless supply!

Bibliophile vs. Bookworm

Old Books
Photo by Melodi2 via morguefile.com
The Bookworm

Bibliophile – from the french, meaning book lover; often a collector; someone who appreciates books for their content, their format, and the materials used in their production. A bibliophile may amass their own collection, or may simply prefer to admire the collections of others i.e. the special collections found in universities, or national libraries. References to book collecting date from the ancient Romans.

Bookworm – 1. an avid reader; someone primarily interested in the content of a book, who may or may not collect books. 2. the larva of a wood-boring beetle that feeds on the paper, and binding paste of books; silverfish. (Note: Mice also eat binding glue which explains why many bookstores house a resident cat.) 3. an electronic game similar to scrabble that will “feed your appetite for words.”

And, just to illustrate the issue – This iconic painting of a bibliophile by Carl Spitzweg is called “The Bookworm.”

Every Book Collector’s Battle

I’m sure you’ve guessed already, I collect books. And, I don’t mean just the books I search out for selling, I mean the books I buy for myself. My personal collection has outgrown the space I’ve allotted it, repeatedly, and I’m continually on the hunt for more shelves. I don’t know how it happens but, when the lights go out, somehow, those books just seem to multiply all by themselves.

Traditional bookshelves can often be expensive and, to be honest, a bit ordinary if you have as many as I do. So, lately, I’ve been on the hunt for alternatives, and courtesy of Google, I’ve discovered some amazing pieces of furniture created by some very talented people.

The secret to these pieces, though, is that they’ve been made from re-purposed items. In other words, other people’s junk, or trash has been reclaimed through curb-side shopping, dumpster diving, or scavenging. Admittedly, this isn’t for everyone, but with imagination, and a little bit of elbow grease, these discards can be given a second life. Transformed into unique, functional bookshelves, they can be tweaked to fit anyone’s decor. Take a look:

If you’re squeamish about the scavenging part, check out your nearest Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, or architectural clearinghouse. Set aside a Saturday morning, and head out on a treasure hunt. Google pipes, shutters, wood-framed windows, railings, or anything else you find; add ‘repurposed’ to the search, and you’ll discover endless ‘how-to’ instructions for almost any kind of shelving unit.  Good luck!

And the Winner is…

84 Charing Cross Road by Off the Quill Inc. Productions

Sandwiched in between the music and sound categories at this year’s Oscars’ ceremony were the awards for Best Short Films. The winner for Best Animated Short was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I’d never heard of any of the nominees, but the next day I googled the winning film to see if I could find out a little bit more.

Sure enough, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore has its own website and the 15 minute film was available for viewing on YouTube, and for purchase on Itunes.

Quoting their website:

“Inspired in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a… hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old-fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.”

It is very good, well worth taking the time, and it’s just as heart-warming as their press suggests.

It reminded me of a few other movies I’ve seen made about books. 84, Charing Cross Road was based on one by Helene Hanff, which I absolutely loved. The movie was a little disappointing, as they often are. However, the book was also made into a stage play, which has gathered quite a following. A British fan has put together a website devoted to the books’ historical elements starting with its bookstore, Marks & Co. If you’ve read Hanff’s novel, 84, Charing Cross Road Revisited will put the story into context.

And, if you have children, you’ve probably seen The Pagemaster, with Macaulay Culkin, at least once. It was a favourite in my house for quite a while. Although panned by many of the critics, it encouraged my son to pick up a few of the classics, which was good enough for me!

There are many movies based on books, but movies about books are harder to come by. Which one of your favourites would you recommend?

There’s a Goldmine in Town

I live in Cut Knife, a small town of about 600 people in west central Saskatchewan. Stand alone bookstores are few, and far between, out here. We do have the occasional retail outlet, within driving distance, that sells books in, and amongst their other offerings, but for a whole variety of reasons, bricks and mortar bookstores all across the country have been on the decline.

So, what’s a bibliophile to do?  Well, the reading part is easy. We travel whatever distance we have to; we buy our books online, or we borrow. Still, that doesn’t replace all the other services a community bookstore will offer – like staff recommendations, or book launches, and author readings, or listings of literary award winners, etc. Fortunately, though, most rural areas have access to the next best thing: The Public Library.

I used my first library card, acquired way back in the 1960s, to borrow books, and books, alone. In fact, the only reason I went to the library was for books, and to access the encyclopedias for class reports. That was it. Today, though, libraries are the hubs of their communities. They’re filled with lending materials like books, and music, and movies, and have online services that include access to newspapers, encyclopedias, music downloads, foreign language and course modules. They also regularly host public events.

Our libraries are now home to holiday celebrations, guest lectures, and writers-in-residence programs; film showings and festivals; open mic nights, and storytelling concerts. They support literacy and ESL services, book clubs, and organize story times for children of all ages. So, whether you access your local branch, its regional hub, or every town’s library between the two, be sure to check their monthly calendars. There’s a wealth of regularly scheduled activities happening in most of them.