An Ode to Book Lovers

February 8, 2006

I think at heart, book lovers are lonely people. Not lonely literally, but rather lonely for lack of similar minded people around them, for lack of similar readers. Readers come in all shapes and sizes, and this diversity tends to isolate them in insular pockets of monologesque discussion with themselves. Today there are the “women” readers, the bestseller readers, the murder-mystery readers, the non-fiction readers and of course ‘those sci-fi/fantasy types’. Each of them seem to occupy their own little niches, surrounded in a world overtaken by the frantic pace of television, movies and hit-of-the-week pop songs. Not that these readers don’t inhabit this world; they form a significant part of it… no-one is free from the addictive forces of TV. But within this fast-shrinking world of book readers, and the even smaller subset of book lovers, there has appeared a startling lack of a forum for book discussion.

The reading of books in general is viewed as far too indulgent a luxury; taking time off on a weekend to watch a two hour long movie is one thing but a book is a long term commitment. Its like getting into a new relationship, and the wife already takes up enough of your time. And once you actually commit to the damn thing, it seems almost excessive to actually spend time talking about it. Ever notice that book clubs are only shown as the pass time of bored housewives? Where is the neighborhood book-club for the guys? Indeed where are the books for all the male readers? It seems to be a growing trend that the popular books and the critical favorites are usually meant for women. Not explicitly, but on a more subtle level… the tag line of one goes: “the sensitive story about the black slave that helped out his recently widowed white owner to run her farm”. Another boldly displays its intentions in its title: “The History of Love”.

And what are we poor men supposed to read? The DaVinci Code? Or probably some new Robert Ludlum novel. Please. Today men are divided into two categories: either he reads the latest and hottest “business” book that tells you how to get rich fast, or its the weird sci-fi nerd who plays alone with his lightsaber. I guess I hadn’t really thought about this until I read on some random Amazon review about how a particular book was a real “guys” book, rather than something probably marketed to some lonely 30-something female with relationship issues. And that is true. Those are the books I scour the net for, going through hundreds of reviews to find that perfect gem of a fiction novel which will fit with my current mood. And those are the type of books that I have the hardest time finding. Not that reading “The Time-traveler’s Wife” wasn’t enjoyable… its just that sometimes…. throw a dog a bone, willya?

But I have gone somewhat off-track (though not totally). What I started by saying was that book lovers are lonely for similar minded book readers. I have been a voracious reader since I ever learned how, and through out these years only rarely have I come across someone I can actually talk to about books, and almost never have I met one who truly shares my tastes. Well there was this time in third grade… but I guess that doesn’t count. When I first came to university I joined a book club. My first meeting was a revelation; never had I experienced so many people sharing so much about reading. But ultimately it turned out to be a failed experiment. While a true eye-opener, the club was mostly a bunch of girls (dowdy ones at that) who insisted on reading some archaic novel about the trials of small town life and the importance of family. I just couldn’t get around to forcing myself to read a novel that sounded like the most boring piece of work ever put to paper.

For me, I’d rather just have a couple of friends who share my taste in books, who I can recommend an amazing book I just read to, and have one recommended to me in turn. But alas, those few of my friends who do make a semi-regular habit of reading, tend to have vastly different tastes in books. A book lover who finds someone who shares his love for a particular book (and for books in general) is a pitiful creature. I say pitiful because of the almost grateful and eager note in their enthusiasm, as they discuss this sole book that has brought them together. They get this somewhat crazed glint in their eyes as they bob their heads in agreement, knowing that they will never meet this kindred soul again, for surely they are stuck in a twilight zone of some kind. Or they feverishly hope against hope, even though they know that it is inevitable, that this is not some one-off chance, that this is not the only book that the two share a passion for, or indeed the only book in the known universe that both of them have read. In all probability however, it will turn out that one almost exclusively reads sappy love stories the print equivalent of “Must Love Dogs”, while the other is obsessed with the non-fictional accounts of the greatest military commanders in history. They shall inevitably have to await the much anticipated mash-up of Sun-Tzu and a Jackie Collins novel that is in the offing.

And so the forlorn book lovers retreat into their solitary worlds, enduring as their friends patronize them with a customary “So what did you think of the DaVinci Code” (sorry Dan Brown!). This trend however, has recently led to some very interesting developments occurring in the internet. Developments like Library Thing, which is a personal library cataloging service with Web 2.0 sensibilities (I know, groan, but seriously if you haven’t checked this out, do so now). These services, along with others like MetaxuCafe, are all efforts to overcome the inherent solitary confinement of the book lover, and create a forum for public discussion in a virtual scale where a real one doesn’t suffice (or even exist). This is a good development, not only because of its inherent value but because it is leading the way for a true platform for discussion of nearly any topic on the internet. So to book lovers I say, look forward with joy; ignore the cries that herald the death of book publishing… that may happen for the model as we know it. But for book readers, a new golden age is coming… welcome it with open arms.


4 Responses to “An Ode to Book Lovers”

  1. […] I came across this great blog post through Metaxucafe. I think it describes book lovers very well.   […]

  2. bookaddict4life Says:

    I love this post! You write very well. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Sask Says:

    My, my, you have said (in English) what I felt (in Chinese).

  4. zeedany Says:

    Truly, I agree. Going to check out those site you mention now.

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