Literacy Is Important, and Book Bloggers Are Integral to the Cause

Normally, I simply review books here and provide interviews, guest posts, and giveaways, along with local Washington, D.C., event information and recaps.  However, yesterday, I saw an article, which read more like a blog post or opinion piece, about Book Expo America 2011 and the Book Blogger Convention. Before I get to the generalizations made about book bloggers, I want to address some of the author’s other points about the publishing industry.

The author of the article decried the demise of literary fiction and the rise of electronic reading devices and children’s books.  First, we are living in an increasingly digital world, and books were bound to be caught up in it or be lost forever.  Stories, once told orally during the time of Homer, were eventually adapted to written documents that were passed down in libraries and eventually bookstores.  As more of us carry smartphones and have laptops, it makes sense that readers would need books to come in forms read by those devices, especially since many of us are constantly on the go.  While some of us, including myself, are still attached to printed books and prefer not to read them on digital devices, other generations will not be as beholden to printed books.

Secondly, why shouldn’t Book Expo America dedicate nearly 33 percent of its floor space (if this is even accurate) to children’s books and the publishers that issue those books?  Shouldn’t our children and future generations have their own favorite books, like I adore E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic? Between 1992 and 2003, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy did not find a significant change in prose literacy levels among adults, with 14 percent unable to perform basic prose literacy tasks and 29 percent able to perform just basic tasks.  For more on literacy rates, please go here.  As more kids fail standardized tests on reading and drop out of school, I think we should be encouraging children to read.  As the wife of a man who has trouble reading, I can tell you first hand how he struggles with daily tasks, deals with daily ribbing from co-workers when he misspells words or can’t quite articulate what he means, or simply gives up reading after a paragraph or a page because it’s taking too long.

Onto the comments about book bloggers, I remember the term  “mommy bloggers” being coined in reference to those mothers who blogged about parenthood.  I never considered myself a “mommy blogger” because I was not a mother.  Now that I am a mother, my blog remains as always a book blog — my space for discussing the books I read, enjoy, and want to share with my readers and much of that has been poetry collections.  Why?  Because I write poetry, read it, and love it and believe that it is under-served by the so-called “professional” book reviewers.  I wanted to make sure that poetry didn’t disappear from readers’ minds, especially since many haven’t read a book of poetry, let alone a single poem, since high school or college!

“So, in a paradoxical way, this subculture is even more limited in its interests than the mainstream media. Though, in theory, the Internet is a space of infinite diversity, in practice many communities reproduce the patterns that exist outside cyberspace. The main difference between the new book bloggers and the old book reviewers is that the former don’t have any literary ‘prejudices.'”

A subculture, limited in interests?  Some book bloggers have created a niche for their readers, but I bet many of them read outside those niches, much like Pam, who reviews mostly young adult fiction on her blog, or Anna, who reviews quite a bit of WWII fiction and Jane Austen-related fiction.  I don’t restrain my reviews to just poetry, though it is my favorite genre.  The book blogging community the article refers to and suggests is repeating the limiting patterns of mainstream media is simply false.  As an avid reader of newspaper reviews, prior to becoming a blogger, I can attest to the large number of pretentious novels that were reviewed and the irony of the bestseller’s lists that often listed “popular” titles, like the mystery/thrillers of James Patterson.  I wanted more poetry, more diversity from these reviewers.  They reviewed literary fiction, but it was obvious that those were not popular among customers — hence the disconnect between the books reviewed and those on the bestseller’s list.  And if book bloggers don’t have “literary prejudices,” isn’t that beneficial to the literary community and readers in general because they are exposed to a greater variety of books?

Finally, “Their electronic chatter will soon cover whatever is left of book reviewing” is simply an insulting statement to intelligent men and women who share their love of reading and books with their readers.  It is more than “chatter” that these blogs are releasing into the Internet wilderness; they are contributing to the larger fight against illiteracy, to the conversation of book clubs across the globe, and to the expansion of humanity’s evolution via a medium that the author clearly is unable to adapt to or understand.