When my second-grade teacher was growing up during the Great Depression, she discovered what would become her favorite book at the Cleveland Heights Public Library. Unfortunately, by the time she’d finished reading “The Hobbit” and persuaded her parents to buy her a copy, they couldn’t find it in the bookstore. Undeterred, she checked out the library’s copy over and over again, determined to make one of her own by pecking out the entire text with two fingers on the family’s manual typewriter. How many authors who write for adults can boast of having a reader so utterly devoted to their work? (From Laura Miller’s NYTimes book review of ‘Minders of Make-Believe” — a terrific book by Leonard Marcus, by the way.)
How cool to read about someone else doing this. I similarly fell in love with a library book as a kid and took it out over and over before trying to copy it into a notebook. Mine was Madeleine L’Engle’s And Both Were Young. Has anyone else ever done this?
Alastair Harper thinks so. As far as he’s concerned, the reduction of book reviews in media is no tragedy at all. He concludes:
Reading is a personal act. It’s rare for friends to share the same bag of favourite authors; and, indeed, it would be depressing if they did so. Part of loving books is wandering shops or libraries, reading the anecdotes of other writers on books that changed their world, stalking the bookshelves of friends when they’re looking the other way, and finally coming back home, opening the book and finding it a piece of trash. Or, as the case may be, a treasure.
I think he is missing something here. In fact, he is contradicting himself in this paragraph by insisting reading is personal, that tastes vary, yet he also checks out his friends’ bookshelves. Why not just ask them? What is depressing about sharing favorite authors with friends? I sure do. Books have always been important for me, but I have made many friends because of our shared taste in literature.
For me, reading is both intensely personal and social. Books are my passion. My favorite social times are meeting up with others who share my adoration for books, especially children’s books. I connect to others who like the same books I like in person and online. I love it when I discover a new wonderful book, recommend it to friends who end up liking it too. Recently I read and loved a forthcoming book. It was only when a house guest who also is a passionate reader of children’s books read it and loved it too that I got up the nerve to post about it. My immediate response to the book was personal, but it was then nuanced and complicated by my conversation with my friend. So, yes, reading is most centrally a personal act, but it moves beyond that as we interact and discuss what we read.