It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s the Bookternet!


Recently, Publishers Weekly convened a panel at Penguin Random House offices in Manhattan to talk about the phenomenon that this blog is a part of–the internet of books, or bookternet. I am not usually a big fan of neologisms but this one was interesting, as is the phenomenon that it represents.

What publishers are talking about is the realization that there is an online book culture that exists in a number of places around the ‘net where people are talking about books. One of the most interesting statements in this article is this one by Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot:

“Online book fans aren’t looking for reviews or longform essays about books. ‘No one is interested in reviews on Book Riot,’ Schinsky said. ‘They want conversation. People want to talk about what they’re reading and what book they’ll read next.’ ”

That’s an interesting statement for reviewers as well as publishers. Publishers can learn a good deal, it was suggested, by listening in on these conversations and offering content that connects with the interests in these book communities. It also means that the “buzz” about a book is not something that can simply be generated by Madison Avenue. To some degree, it is in the hands of people who are talking about books, and there is a serendipitous element about that. Here’s a book publicist who has figured how this works, and coined the word, bookternet:

What about us reviewers and book bloggers? I think what this suggests is the idea that for a review to really become a conversation, it needs to be something other than a seemingly definitive description and opinion of the book. A conversation that is not a conversation stopper is open-ended–with questions, provocations, and laughter. And maybe sometimes, it is just sharing what we are wondering about as we read a book and whether this meshes with the experience of others who are reading it. It’s cool sometimes just to find out what the Book Riot folk are reading and why.

One of the most interesting challenges in this online world is finding those interested in talking about the books you are reading. Some groups where I’ve posted are mostly just self-published authors promoting books. Hardly anyone engages what others post. Sometimes the interested people find you if you’ve tagged your post well and it comes up on searches–still learning about that one.

I have found that if you can point to a body of work, some level of viewership, and turn around reviews and other material on books, publishers will work with you, at least some of the time. Actually you are exchanging your work of reading and writing for a free copy of their book. The trick I’m learning is to do that for books I’m really interested in reading.

If you are a book blogger or otherwise involved in online conversations about books, what are you learning about the bookternet?

How Many Books Did You Read in 2013?

Book Riot recently published the results of poll of its followers on questions around their reading habits in 2013. Here is what they discovered:

Responses: 2483 (overall)

Mean-Average of books read: 75

Median number of books: 50

Respondents read anywhere between 2 and 1500 books!

Nearly 75 percent read e-books this past year

Print books still outweigh e-books by roughly 70 to 30 percent read.

Book Riot connects predominantly with an 18-35 year old college-educated constituency. Compare their numbers with a Pew study that found the mean average of books Americans read is 12 with a median average of 5 in a year.

One of the things these numbers suggest to me is that there is a big gulf in reading between a small cadre’ of people who really read a lot, and the vast majority who read little. There are some questions this basic gulf raises for me:

1. Was it always this way or is the gulf widening?

2. Do numbers tell the whole story? What are we reading? Is there greater worth in reading one great work of fiction than fifty romance novels?

3. How much time are people spending in any type of reading? Are we reading more online posts, magazine articles?

4. While we know that more are reading on tablets and e-readers, and even smartphones, does this translate into any more books being read?

I participated in the Book Riot poll. My own totals were 121 books read and for me it was roughly an 80% to 20% split between print and e-books.  I’d be curious for those of you who track such things, what were your reading numbers like in 2013 and what are you observing about how you read?

When Reading Challenges Aren’t Such a Good Idea

I came across a post on Book Riot that reminded me that reading goals might not always be such a good thing. Any of us on Goodreads is familiar with the “Reading Challenge” and also some of the kinds of stats you can look up on your profile page. And some of you are already feeling bad about the goal you set for this year.

Each year, Goodreads allows you to set a “reading challenge” for yourself and provides a nifty little progress bar that gives you the percent of books you’ve read. It also includes above the bar how many books you’ve read toward your goal and below the bar how far ahead or behind you are. Currently mine says, “You have read 18 of 100 books” and “4 books ahead of schedule”. And it is that last phrase that can get you. Some of us are just compulsive enough to feel bad if we get behind. We might even change our reading choices from “goodreads” to “quickreads” to catch up.


If you enter the “Reading Challenge” you can also see how other friends are doing who enter the challenge. Alternately, this allows you to gloat or feel shame, depending on how you are doing. If that is not OCD enough for you, there is a stats page that will tell you how many pages you’ve read so far this year and how many pages you’ve read in previous years. Still haven’t had enough? There is an explore tab with the menu item “people”. You can find out for example the top readers in the US (this week, someone from California who has read the insane number of 2428 books this week) or the top reviewer (who has reviewed 227 books this week). One look at that list and I realized I will never make the top 50.

The question that we should ask though is what does any of this have to do with good reading? The short answer is, “Absolutely nothing!” It seems to me the question of whether you do a challenge or not, whether you complete a challenge or not, and how many pages you read or reviews you write has nothing to do with good reading. Good reading has to do with finding great writing that captures your imagination, enlarges your world and changes the way you look at it and engage with it. Whether you read one book, or five, or a hundred is beside the point. The real question is what your reading experience is like reading those books. Some thoughts on what makes for good reading–some of which I’ve probably shared before:

1. Good reading starts with setting aside time where you can be attentive to the book before you. Depending on the season of life, that could be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. For some, 10 minutes hiding out in the bathroom may be the best you can do!

2. Of course, good reading takes a good book. Now “good” can cover a wide variety of meanings for us and I think there are “good” books in every genre from theology to sports writing. There is also badly written stuff, and stuff that is just “mind candy.” Actually, I wouldn’t worry too much about this. Over time, you learn what is good for you, and what doesn’t speak to you.

3. I do think a good read doesn’t simply amuse us but also helps us get a better take on life and the world around us. Conversely, bad writing panders to our fantasies and paranoias. Those books may engage us, but they also distort our vision of the world we actually live in.

4. The best books are those from which we come away changed for good. Maybe one question we should ask ourselves is whether this is one of our reasons for reading.

5. Good reads take us into community. We want to share that book with another so that we can talk with them about it. Or we pick up a book because of what it has meant to a friend. Or a group of our friends are reading it together.

So, if a reading challenge is encouraging you to carve out time in your life to read good books, great! If it just feeds an OCD thing or is a source of guilt, ditch it for the leisurely soaking in a good book, even if it is the only one you read this year!

What Would You Not Read Again?

I posted recently on our “Books and Brownies” gathering where we all shared books we enjoyed reading that had profoundly shaped our lives. I read a post today in Book Riot that proposed the opposite sort of gathering where they talked about “What Not to Read“. The idea was to get together to talk about at least one book they hated that they would try to talk others out of reading. The basic rules were to be ruthless toward the book but civil toward each other (some others present might like what you hate!). Needless to say, animated but enjoyable discussion among booklovers followed.

I’d love to hear what my readers would nominate as their worst books. If I get a list, I will do a future post. Include your reasons.

Mine would be Gabriel Garcia Marquez One Hundred Years of Solitude. Lots of people with the same name, the bizarre world of magical realism, and decadent sex, all of which seemed to go on interminably. But I gather it is supposed to be brilliant social commentary on Latin American history. Here is a link to my recent review.

My wife nominates George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. In her words, “never read something where the person is getting paid by the word.”

So what are your nominees for “What Not to Read”?