Sunday, August 21, 2016

Update On First-World Problem, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Books More Than Anything In The World Including Oxygen.

This morning I saw on Twitter this Book Riot lead:

I responded by retweeting it, which is the only way you should ever show appreciation for a tweet by the way -- "liking" or "favoriting" do nothing for the person who tweeted it; that person put it on Twitter so people would see it. Retweeting it helps that. Liking or favoriting simply buries the tweet. Have you ever looked at someone's liked tweets? No. -- and in retweeting I asked is a book slump really a thing? So because I actually like Book Riot I went to read the article to see what this was all about.

It apparently is a thing, and it's such a thing that this is like their fourth article about it. including not less than EIGHTEEN TIPS for ending a reading slump. I thought I would share them with you because they are ridiculous.

A 'reading slump' is I guess when you are not reading very many books. This is a statement that I immediately have a complex relationship with, because while I embarked on my 100 Books project specifically to read more books because I felt like I was wasting a lot of time on the Internet and not reading much, I also feel that no reading is 'wasted.' My mom used to look down on some things, saying that I was wasting my time reading science fiction or fantasy or comic books; I disagreed with her, and I think in general that in the choice between reading and not reading, one should always say reading is better than not reading. As for what you read, the quality of what you read is, like your hairstyle or your clothing, a personal choice. If you like reading on the Internet, then reading on the Internet is fine. People who judge other people's reading choices are jerks.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let's see what help Book Riot offers for people who simply cannot force themselves to read books right now.

Book Riot has been talking about this a long time. Back in September 2014 they posted "5 Tips For Getting Out Of A Long-Term Reading Slump."  It begins:

D’you ever find yourself . . . just not reading? For weeks? Or months? Maybe years?
I have gone through long-term reading slumps that have made me ashamed even to keep calling myself a reader. 
I don't know that this happens. I do know that I dislike the Internet's way of making every single like into an obsession. You can't like to read, or like Star Wars, or like "Stranger Things." You have to live it. You have to wear it, talk about it, blog about it, do it to the point of neglecting the rest of your life, get a tattoo of it, and name your cat after it.  Sports fans are not alone in acting obnoxious. Fans of everything act that way. People who make fun of Dolphins fans for painting their faces and calling sports-talk shows should check out Comic-Con.

Anyway, back in 2014 it was simpler times and you could jump-start your reading by, Book Riot proposed, by re-reading an old favorite or seeing if one of your favorite authors has a new book out, to "prime" you for reading new stuff.

You could also "plan a reading day," a whole day to sit in your pajamas and read.

Or you could go to the library, or buy an e-reader.

So far, my problem is that this presupposes a problem -- you are going weeks or months or years without reading... anything? Is this a problem? And if it is, is it simply that you are not reading? Is this hypothetical person just staring off into space in their off hours? Because I don't think life works like that.

I can't think of a time that I didn't read something -- the news or a website or magazines or something. Possibly when I was in Morocco and had limited access to English reading materials, which led to me reading Les Miserable (in English.) But times that I'm not reading I'm usually doing something else -- watching a movie, playing with the boys, working, etc.  So possibly getting access to new books or pulling out an old favorite would make me say hey I like this thing [the book] better than that thing [the movie, playing, etc.] but my 'slump' was mostly just choices of entertainment. And why should I feel ashamed to choose something I find more entertaining than a book? That's book snobbery on a par with people who say I don't own a TV.

Also: two of those solutions require real money: an ereader or an entire day of doing nothing but reading suggests some ready cash and plenty of leisure time. If you've got money and leisure time and you're not reading, you're probably just not a reader.

Book Riot, which I assume has a vested interest not just in encouraging people to read but in encouraging book readers to act towards books in the rabid obsessive fanboy way Packer fans react to football, then published "7 Ways To Break A Book Slump" in 2015. (They published it twice that year, in fact.)

These suggestions ranged from the useless ("Wait it out") to the impractical:

Make a LEGO diorama of your favorite literary scene in the faint hope it will bring you back to your love of the written word.
(?!) to the bizarre ("Imagine your favorite authors are roommates")

to the useless (Read fanfiction, look at art made from books, read a book you've already read, go to a bookstore.)

Some of them are essentially "So you're not reading? So what?" Others are "You're not reading? Read." They are akin to You're depressed? Well cheer up in that they are useless, but unlike that example they also address something that is not actually a problem (unless you make your money through telling people to read, ahem.)

The others presuppose, again, lots of time and money -- have you ever tried making a diorama, let alone a Lego diorama? -- or resurrect book snobbery. I still don't know what exactly to make of this one:

4. Imagine your favorite authors being each other’s roommates. My preferred pairing is Jane Austen/Charlotte Brontë, because they would have hated each other and it would’ve been hilarious.

Other than to note that fans of Austen and/or a Bronte are every bit as rabid as Jets fans, only far more precious and annoying about it. Jane Austen is the bacon of the literary world: annoying, overrated, and far more important in the imaginations of a few than the real world.

A couple weeks later Book Riot followed up with "How To Start Reading Again." This one acknowledges that reading is a choice and that the real world sometimes insists you not imprint on Jane Austen novels:

I know that it is hard sometimes to decide to read instead of doing something else. Today instead of reading I 1) did not wake up early to go for a walk with my audiobook, 2) went grocery shopping on my lunch break instead reading the book I have in my purse, 3) took a nap when I got home instead of starting my book club book. That is three times just today! 

before telling you you are not working hard enough:

But I also decided I was going to read a solid chapter over dinner, and I did. 

This article, too, goes on to give tips like trying a new genre or new format -- although it allows that perhaps people cannot run out and buy a bunch of new books by suggesting checking with your library to see what kinds of e-books and audiobooks you can get. As these go, they are not bad. They amount to if you don't have time to read maybe get an audiobook, which is something I started doing because I drive so much and hated talk radio, which is all sports or right wing nutjobs.

The article, not surprisingly, also suggests joining a 'book community' and thinks that maybe talking with Book Riot people might be a good idea. Fair enough. They're running a business, and a big part of advertising is creating a problem (ring around the collar) and then a solution (don't wear shirts.)  So you're not reading enough? they ask, guilting you into thinking you should read more, maybe talk to us about how you're not reading enough, then buy a Book Riot bookbag to put all your books in!

They do suggest Set A Goal, which is exactly what I did when I decided to read a hundred books in a year, and finish with this refreshing thought:

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to read. You can still have a good life without reading books. You are not terrible because once you got out of school, or had kids, or picked up the oboe, or whatever, you stopped reading. You don’t have to read!

Of course, if you did take up the oboe you would have to bookmark Oboe Riot and read 21 Tweets only Oboe Players Will Understand on Buzzfeed and get a tshirt that says Oboe-ists are "REED"ers too a shirt I just made up that I'm sure will sell heavily in the former reader/current Oboeist community if I can only work in a Jane Austen angle.  But in 2015, Book Riot's last word on the subject was, more or less, hey reading's cool and all but you know there's other stuff, a refreshing change from how the Internet treats everything.  (I swear to God, once, I posted a link on the website Gather to a blog post I'd written. A person commented on the link and said It sounds interesting but if you're trying to get me to go to a different website forget it: I read Gather.)  Not everything has to be an obsession. You can just like things. Way back when, I was a big Buffalo Bills fan: I watched their games and wore jerseys and knew all the players and went to their stadium on my honeymoon.

Now, I watch maybe one football game a year, and I couldn't name three Bills players. I sometimes run into other people who like the team, even in Wisconsin, when I'm wearing a t-shirt. Hey, the Bills they yell, and I have to sort of shrug and say yeah well it's just a shirt now.

But Book Riot really can't let you think reading is just this guy, you know? They have to sell you reading so you will listen to their podcasts, go to their website and live shows, buy their merchandise, etc.  They have to make reading more than a hobby. They have to make it a lifestyle.

The world of sports is again a good analogy. Monetizing a thing is difficult to do unless you can convince people that they need it so much they will pay money to put stickers on their garage floor to show how much they love this thing. (Stickers on garage floors being an actual thing sports fans buy.)
NFL Teams make money in a couple ways: televising games (all teams share all profits equally), ticket sales (teams keep about 60% of sales at their stadium), and merchandise, which is divided equally if you buy from anywhere but that team's shop.  Merchandise sold through that team's shop is solely the teams.

In Packer country, the Green Bay Packers have elevated obsessive fan love to an art form. They sell fans worthless stock in the team for $50 a share. They sell fans dirt. But just liking football wasn't enough. The NFL has now monetized the draft and the NFL Combine, which is where college players go to see if they can catch teams' attention and get drafted. More than 7,000,000 people watch the NFL Combine, and by 2013 the NFL was looking for a way to make the combine "more fan-friendly."  

This is how you make money off entertainment, these days. There are a billion different ways to capture people's attention.  The easiest way to grab onto your share is not just to make something interesting, but to make it an obsession.  This is why there is "geek culture" and ComicCon is a huge media event on par with the Oscars and why there are a billion listicles that follow the formula of "[X] Things Only [Y]Lovers Could Understand": Because someone will not make enough money if you do not spend all of your money on that thing.

So Book Riot creates the idea of a "reading slump," which is: you are not reading enough, so let's interest you in reading about how you're not reading enough.  Today's "6 More Ways To Beat A Reading Slump" demonstrates how creating an obsession is used to pull you away from other forms of media and back to Book Riot, in particular:

1. Unplug. I find that the internet (gulp) is one of my main culprits for a lack of reading. Being online presents one with endless stimuli and I find that it can dampen that itch of needing to read something. (Maybe also because a lot of interacting with the internet is actually reading-based.) Either that, or I get caught up binge-watching shows and I can’t do both that and read at the same time. Cutting off that constant stimulus sometimes brings back my reading appetite.

"Stop doing something that's not reading books."

2.Groove on some nonfiction topic that interests you.Nonfiction might not be your thing, and that’s cool. I have a few pet topics that I’m highly interested in (neurology/psychology and food politics, mostly) and even when I don’t feel like reading a novel, I can usually find a book on an interesting topic to dive into. Nonfiction is a different kind of reading for me so it isn’t necessarily subject to the same reader’s block

"Read other kinds of books." (News is nonfiction, as are many things on the Internet, but remember you've already unplugged.)

3.Surf Goodreads or some listicles for new titles and ideas. ...Going back to the bookternet helps in the same way that browsing my cookbooks helps when I am bored with all of my regular meals. We have a bunch of must-read lists here at Book Riot that might have something to tickle your fancy

"But before you unplug check Book Riot to find out what kinds of books you should read."

Tips 4 and 5 are "Take a ME Day" and "Read before bed." Tip 6 is:

Keep picking up books from a stack until something hooks you. This sounds hyperbolic, but I have actually done this on multiple occasions. My favorite way to do this is to gather up a big ol’ stack from the library, flop down with it, and go through it book by book while (gently) tossing anything aside that doesn’t grab my interest. I keep going until I find something to read or I have a whole stack of discards. If I have the time, I do this at the library and then I don’t even have to make an extra trip to return all the books I didn’t want.

Or: "Read more."

Book Riot has a store that sells clothes, glasses, etc., that are all book-heavy. They have an entire section devoted to things that are kind of library-ish like socks made to look like checkout cards in books. They also sell "book boxes," hand-picked boxes of books and 'book-ish' things you can get monthly, for $60 a pop -- or $720 a year on book stuff. (My total book-related expenses this year are ZERO unless you count my occasional trip to used bookstores to get copies of books I loved, in which case it's about $40 so far.)

I couldn't find out if Book Riot does product placement or paid endorsements; such things are supposed to be labeled by FTC rule but rarely are.

Book Riot is run by "Riot New Media Group." Here is how that company sells itself to investors and advertisers:

Riot New Media Group, founded in 2011, creates content-driven communities around niche interests that delight fans and celebrate their diversity. Sometimes we are serious and sometimes we’re silly. Some of our contributors are pros. Many of them aren’t. We like a good list just as much as we like a good review, and we believe that there are smart, funny, and informative things to say about both.

Emphasis mine. A 2013 article mentioned that one of the Book Riot founders attended "Book Camp," the goal of which was in part getting 'average' people to read more:

There are a lot of people like me — big readers who spend a lot of time thinking about what they are going to read next. Book publishers do not have to worry about these people. At the same time, getting average readers to be interested in book discovery — getting average readers to visit Bookish, for instance — is going to be difficult, because you are also going to have to require these people to make big shifts in their behavior and in their media consumption patterns.

How do you make someone who doesn't read a lot of books read more books?  Tell them that not reading is a problem.  The Internet creates obsessions for the same reason we know what "Ring Around The Collar" is supposed to be, or buy fish sticks: Someone had something they wanted to sell.

I didn't start trying to read more books out of some fake desire to solve a nonexistent 'slump.' I had been reading fewer books because I have a demanding job and some demanding kids, and often I felt as though I was simply not up to reading more complicated stuff -- but I wanted to challenge myself, the same way I once set out to try to lose weight, or write a novel.  I'm not obsessed with books, and I still watch a fair amount of television shows and movies.

It's okay if you're obsessed with books, or with anything. It's okay if you're just not that into stuff, too. Just don't make your choices based on marketing programs designed to make you feel guilty about not loving something enough. Let people pull you by the nose too much and one day you buy $50 worth of dirt and put it on your mantle.


Andrew Leon said...

Well, I have things I could say about reading vs non-reading from a more scientific approach and why reading is good for and, say, watching TV (the way we used to do it, anyway, where it was full of commercials and all of that) is not, but I don't have time for that, right now.
And the truth is, it doesn't matter. Most people do not and will not read books.
And a slump is only a slump if you think it is. I mean, one person might read one book a year and be fine with that while someone else feels like they're in a slump if they're only reading one a month.

Briane Pagel said...

I think reading is both more fun, and better for your mind: in reading, I've said before, you have to fill in all the details and move at your pace. With movies and TV, they give it all to you. So reading I would say is better for the mind, but reading's not good if people don't like it. Reading assigned materials always wrecked it for me, and if people get guilted into reading they'll have the same negative associations with it that my kids do about exercise (from when we wanted them to exercise regularly).

That said, "Book Riot" and publishers, I've noted before, don't care if you READ. They care if you BUY BOOKS. There's a huge difference, and that's part of why Grisham can keep cranking out book after book after book without trying. Marketing matters: 90% of readers gave up after 5 chapters on a book that wasn't marketed much, while 62% of readers finished the heavily marketed book.

Does that mean the heavily marketed one was better? Who knows?

Briane Pagel said...

I should clarify: the marketing was done after the readers were surveyed.

Andrew Leon said...

Did they choose which one to market based on the survey?
I'll try to go look at the article, later, but I don't have time at this very moment.