We get a lot of delectable rare book donations, some of which remind us of forgotten eras, others remind us that some cultural moments should perhaps remain in obscurity. For our readers who want online access to antique books, here’s an international database of rare books, manuscripts and antique photos. http://www.wdl.org/en/
Lillian Gish and a couple of well-read friends!
This is probably something that most people who really care about books will want to see when it becomes widely available.
Reading: The Cure for What Ails You
Good news, fellow book lovers! The New York Times recently reported on a study that touts the health and relaxation benefits of reading. Reading can reduce stress levels by 67%; more than nearly any other activity. To this end, doctors in Great Britain have begun prescribing library and bookstore trips to patients suffering from anxiety and depression. Patients are encouraged to pick up self-help books, “uplifting” novels, and books of poetry. We at Open Books already knew that bookstores are the most relaxing place on the planet (if you’re not working at one, that is!) and we have found that books can be cures for far more ailments that anxiety and depression.
Loneliness: Feeling alone? Pick up a philosophy book and enter a conversation with the author, and by extension become part of the great human debate. Pick up a novel and enter the mind of someone completely unlike you. A relationship with a fictional character is no less real… and sometimes the longest lasting.
General malaise: No need for boredom with books around! Maybe it’s time for an edge-of-your-seat thriller, some improbable sci-fi, or something hilarious. (Try The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams if you want all three.)
Societal detachment: See: Loneliness. It’s hard to feel detached from society while reading a great book. Books are, in our opinion, the ultimate social media. Take your thoughts or an interesting bit of trivia and start a conversation on Facebook or Goodreads, on the train or at a bar, with your family and friends, and with your friendly bookstore shopkeepers. You can even e-mail the author; you just may get a response. When you read you enter a conversation with the author and everyone else who’s ever read that book. All you have to do is share your thoughts.
Chronological detachment: Time for history books! Exacerbate your problem by getting lost in the minutia of the middle-ages, or get up to speed on current events with some erudite takes on the facts of the day. Books are far more informative than the 24-hour news cycle, and are usually written with the advantage of a few extra months to reflect.
Trouble empathizing: Here’s a fact that might start a great conversation: according to a study done by the University of Buffalo, reading fiction improves the ability to empathize with others. Fiction puts the reader into someone else’s shoes, and constant readers can more easily translate that experience into their every-day interactions with others.
But beware, because books can cause some psychological disturbances too. The desperation I feel when I have to put down a book right at the good part; the lost hours of sleep when I can’t put a book down at the good part; the absolute devastation when something awful happens to a character I love; the horror of a bad ending; even more lost sleep from scary stories…. there’s no end to the effects that books have on my life. Even sad or difficult emotions brought up by reading connect me more closely to the world. I think doctors who prescribe books may be the best doctors of all.
20. If Chicago was good enough for Studs Terkel to spend a lifetime in, it is good enough for me.
Aleksandar Hemon’s new memoir, The Book of My Lives, is out today!
What’s Guilty About Pleasure Reading?
I don’t think a day has passed in my bookselling life without a customer hesitantly prefacing a book search request with “I don’t normally read this kind of thing, but…” Whether he or she wants Fifty Shades of Grey, Star Trek novels, The Da Vinci Code, comic books, or a Harlequin romance, it is clear to me that there’s a whole lot of stigma centered around we decide to read.
Readers of the world, throw off your chains! A person’s reading list is very personal. Everyone has their own tastes and reads for their own reasons. It’s hard to know why someone is reading a certain book or what they’re getting out of it- but even if they’re only getting the enjoyment of devouring the lightest of fluff fiction, the operative word there is enjoyment. No one is immune from that constant low grade worry about the judgment of others, but I can guarantee that your local bookseller isn’t judging you. She’s just happy to have a sale.
Whenever I hear a snicker about the dorky books I read, I’ve trained my response to be “Yeah, but they’re awesome.” and I find that this can usually turn the conversation into a real book discussion. I’ve even convinced a few friends to pick up something completely new this way. I’m no saint- I mock my co-workers endlessly for their book choices- but in the end, it’s important to remember that seeing someone read a book that they’re enjoying is a cause for respect rather than judgment.
There’s plenty of reading guilt that we put on ourselves too. Thoughts like “Oh, this book isn’t literary enough” or “Oh, I should be reading non-fiction.” probably plague just about everyone. For a long time, I tried to force my reading list to conform to my own arbitrary standards, but I found that sucked the enjoyment out of it. Now I pick up whatever I’m feeling like at the moment… and I’ll often put a book down in the middle if I’m not enjoying it. My reasoning is this: thousands of new books are published every year, and there are many, many thousand that were published before I was born. Life is short and time is short, and I’ll never have the chance to read everything I want to read. Why should anyone read something they don’t enjoy? And, most importantly, why should anyone feel guilty about reading exactly what they want?
Kevin, any thoughts?
I agree with the basic opinions expressed here, Lizzy, but for me, there’s more to reading than this. I don’t know if most booksellers would agree that they are only happy to have a sale. Sure, bookselling is a business, and our particular function in this business is to earn money for transformative literacy programs throughout Chicago, so sales are absolutely necessary. Still, many booksellers I know (including myself) can’t help but feel an inner joy when they see someone (young or old) step outside of their reading comfort zone. Every time a regular customer who reads only in one genre is willing to stretch their boundaries a little, intrinsic satisfaction wells up inside of me.
I’m as steadfastly a proponent of reading for pleasure and denying the label of “guilty” pleasures as much as you are, but as someone who extols the virtues of literacy and critical thinking as both pleasures and vital life skills, I have to admit that there is a significant part of me that strives to help people find the next step in their reading. Every time I can convince someone who loved Twilight (a book I despised when I read it) to give Philip Pullman (stronger female protagonists), Anne Rice (Vampires drenched in more than just sparkles), or Margaret Atwood (modern speculative fiction with a feminist angle) a try, I am eager for their next visit to learn what they thought, learned, and enjoyed. Every time someone hands me a volume of poetry by Hart Crane (because they knew I grew up devouring the works of Kerouac) or a recently re-translated volume of Clarice Lispector (because they heard me speak of Borges, Cortazar, Aira, and other South American literature), I can’t wait to delve in and see what I can learn from the unknown pleasures of unknown literature (or leisure texts).
So, while I will read the next Doctor Who novel with a goofy grin and unfettered aplomb, I will also look for the tangential relationships that can be made with other literature new and old. Which classical philosophers can be referenced to get more out of time travel tales? Which science writers can teach me more about the nebula the Doctor’s blue box took him to? Literature and reading is a vast web. There are far more shades in that web than the fifty you pointed out, and I’m hoping I can find people to explore them all with me… with open, expanding minds, and without guilt….
…And yes, Lizzy… I will get to the Patrick Rothfuss novels you keep putting on my hold shelf soon!
We can certainly agree, Kevin, that recommending books is one of the greatest pleasures of being a bookseller. Seeing people open their minds to a new idea is a beautiful thing to be a part of. Still, when it comes down to it, seeing people enjoy reading is my favorite part of my job. If someone starts on Twilight, maybe they’ll end up with Margaret Atwood. But if they end up with Sophie Kinsella, then still I say: no guilt! Let’s leave this question for our audience, though: what do you say?
Horrible Histories Author has Horrible Opinion About Libraries
This was disappointing…
Libraries ”have been around too long” and are “no longer relevant”, according to Horrible Histories author Terry Deary, an apparently lone literary voice to believe that libraries have “had their day”.