The thing I love most about reading is just how social it is. Often, reading is seen as a solitary activity: the cliche of the reader, curled up in a corner, apart from the world, absorbed in a private activity of taking meaning from a text. Always reading has had at least two participants: the reader and the text, the text of course being a proxy for the writer. No matter what the writer intends, however, the reader picks up and makes his or her own. I’ve written in this space before about reading and the community that often comes along with reading.
Social media really allows for these types of reading communities to flourish. For example, I’ve been participating in the #1b140 discussion of Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. This is the second time I’ve participated in a twitter-wide book discussion (modeled after the One Book, One Community initiatives). I’ve read The Blind Assassin at least five or six times before: it is one of my favorite novels and one I’ve returned to time and again, so I was enthused to see a favorite of mine chosen. I enjoyed reading the novel and tweeting about different aspects of the story and writing, a process that was much more easily facilitated by tweeting from my Kindle as I read, which had the added benefit of linking to aspects of the text I had highlighted. I’ve mostly been using the site Bookhashtags.com to follow the discussion, which I like best for following all the hashtags rather than setting up a zillion columns in my third-party twitter apps. I find that the people who are hanging out in these hasthags are eager to strike up a conversation and I’ve made some great twitter friendships based on conversations I had the last time: I am assuming the same will happen this time as well. The unfortunate aspect of The Blind Assassin discussion is that I am neck deep in writing a research proposal and lit review for my schoolwork that I just don’t have the time to devote that I would like.
The other aspect of my socially networked life that coincides with reading is the recent flap over the Wall Street Journal‘s article that Young Adult Literature was too dark for young people to read (I thought it was pretty funny, though, that with all the talk of banning books, one of the recommended books was Fahrenheit 451) The response on Twitter was remarkable. The #YASaves hashtag went viral and became a trending topic. What I liked about this reaction to the article was the way that Twitter facilitated a conversation that ended up being so much bigger than the original article. One of the benefits of Twitter is that it allows people to dip an oar in, contribute their experience to the conversation, as well as highlight the longer, more thought-out responses on various blogs.
These swirling book conversations reminded me of an article that has caused some good conversations in my various social network spaces, “Is Twitter writing? or is it speech?” by Megan Garber over at the Nieman Journalism Lab. I’m not sure I agree that Twitter is a BRAND NEW THING, a third category, because I think we’ve been doing Twitter-like things all along (I am in agreement with Bill Hart-Davidson on this one), but that spaces like Twitter (and Nings, and StackExchange, etc) have certain affordances that lend themselves well to the facilitation of just the types of conversations I’ve highlighted here. Whether they are about books specifically or not is a little beside the point. I think what is so exciting as an educator about these social media spaces is the possibilities they open for students who want to engage in conversations about what they are reading, for example. I have found that my interactions with the texts are enjoyable in different ways due to participating in conversations around them in social media spaces, and I don’t think I am alone.
For more information:
- The Atlantic’s #1b140 twitter book club information
- If you read nothing else about YA lit, read this: Sherman Alexie’s response “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood”
- One of my favorite responses to the WSJ article: “wall street depravity” by gayle forman
- A great article outlining the entire YA controversy: “Kid Lit World Responds to WSJ Attack on YA Fiction” by Rocco Staino in the School Library Journal
- If you haven’t seen it, the original WSJ article: “Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon
- You can’t go wrong with the #bookaday hashtag either: my friend Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer) started this one. Teachers devote themselves to reading a book every day of summer vacation. I’ve found some of my favorite reads because I picked them up by lurking on the hashtag.