I made a random purchase on Amazon recently (who hasn’t?). I was buying a phone cover for my new Google Pixel and due to whatever algorithm determines shipping costs, it was going to be more affordable for me to buy a book in addition to my phone cover. Free shipping on all books! It’s how Amazon killed the book industry (before sort of reviving it with the Kindle).
I picked a paperback book that had been sitting in my wishlist for a few months. I’d read Lena Dunham’s autobiography at some point and crowd-sourced my friends on Facebook for other similar recommendations, or at least some more nonfiction feminist perspectives.
That’s how I ended up with Bad Feminist in my mailbox.
But, before I received the book and started reading it, I followed the author, Roxane Gay on Twitter. When I was browsing my wish list to figure out which book to buy, I googled each author to check out their Twitter profiles. It was mostly instinctive; I don’t know why.
So, before I’d even received my book, I was suddenly reading the words of the author daily. @rgay is a prolific (and fantastically interesting) twitterer. And when I did receive my book in the mail and started reading it, I suddenly found myself in this strange multi-dimensional world of words.
I read Twitter every day, approximately forty gazillion times per day. The amount of times I pick up a book to read is significantly less. Bad Feminist became a multi-dimensional experience as it was always sitting in my day bag and @rgay was always all up over my Twitter. The book sat in my backpack for weeks and I’d pick it up every now and then to read a few pages, a chapter here and there.
This pervasive experience of reading, though, where I’m interacting with the author (albeit passively) and simultaneously reading her printed book…you’re confronted at multiple angles like every good albeit confusing experience.
There are countless think pieces on the internet (with a newly lowercase i) telling us how our attention span has decreased. Content is available everywhere, these articles tell us, but we’re watching, not reading. We’re passively browsing social media rather than contributing new and novel thoughts. We read the headlines, but skim the paragraphs. Photo essays fill up our screens.
Content has never been more pervasive. How do we read in 2018? We read everything, everywhere. We’re bombarded with stories, with news, with other people’s opinions and thoughts.
Every book I’ve read this year, I’ve since extended those experiences into my daily life. I’ve bought books and magazines and then subsequently looked behind the scenes of each writer’s world by following them on Twitter (or sometimes: Instagram).
It’s a peek behind the curtain. We’ve never had it so easy to connect with strangers, so why not connect with those that inspire us, or those that make us think beyond our ordinary lives?
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How to Read in 2018
1. Follow writers on social media
Twitter is my favorite medium for following writers who focus more on written words, politics, or society, but following writers on Instagram is also surprisingly interesting. To follow a writer in real-time on social media while simultaneously reading their book (a printed publication from a specific moment in time), it’s the chance to immediately engage. Reading has become a social activity, rather than a solitary event.
2. Don’t call them creators
Even if authors and writers are creating more content than ever in more mediums, the word “creator” is cringe-worthy at best and degrading at worst. The best authors aren’t merely “creating” a world or an idea or a story, they’re presenting, hypothesizing, theorizing, building, and even destroying worlds. To create is one thing, but it’s to simple to call a writer a creator. Words can and do still have power—let’s not diminish them.
3. Buy books
It’s an important step if you want to be a reader in 2018. Bookstores are disappearing and the ones that still exist often have limited stocks. As a former Barnes & Noble bookseller, I passionately believe in bookstores, but honestly, I buy more books on Amazon than ever before. It’s fast, easy, and the books I want are always in stock. Plus there are an incredible amount of self-published authors who have funny, quirky, and interesting stories worth reading. (How do you find these self-published authors? Twitter.) Don’t want to buy your books? Join a book club or look for free exchanges—hell, join a library while they still exist!
4. Take photos of your books
Thank you Instagram. You’ve revived the art of book covers by encouraging all of us to take photos of our books next to #latteart, or photos of our Kindles on the beach. Pro tip: many bookstores are lovely, but when you buy a book and bring it to some other location where books aren’t expected, you’ll get more likes (and further support your favorite writers). Sharing is caring. Taking photos of your books is great, but also don’t forget to read them.
5. Write in your books (if you dare)
For readers, this is an age-old debate. You’re either the type to fold the pages of your book and scribble in the margins, or the type to carefully use a bookmark. Personally, I’m a writer and always have been a writer, so I will forever scribble, underline, and sometimes even tear apart my books. Even if you don’t write in your books, though, it’s important to remember passages. The Kindle makes this easy with the highlighter function (which you can then directly share via social media). If that doesn’t work for you, simply snap a photo on your phone which you’ll undoubtedly have nearby, to remember any passages or phrases.
Note: not all authors are actively social or engaging with their followers and readers. Personally, as a writer, I think it’s way more interesting to connect with those that read my words than to passively offer them up without my own additional commentary, but to each their own. It’s why I’ve blogged from the time I was 15 (hey, Livejournal & Xanga!)—the chance to write my words, receive comments, and engage beyond whatever silly words I put down to paper (or screen).