Book Help Web


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Consulting literary horoscopes

As I wandered around the Love of Reading site yesterday wondering what to blog about, I was drawn to the many wonderful books that they promote. Most of those books I probably would have known nothing about were it not for the fact that I run Book Help Web, a site that draws me far beyond my normal reading comfort zone and into the wonderful worlds beyond.

Book Help Web is a daughter site to Consumer Help Web, which is, in turn, the parent site to a collection of sites that help people make smart consumer choices about a wide variety of things whether it be media (Movie Help Web, Music Help Web, TV Help Web), hobbies (Beading Help Web, Scrapbooking Help Web, Cooking Help Web), finance and shopping (Consumer Help Web, Shopping Help Web, Financial Help Web), or travel and education (Homeschool Help Web and Travel Help Web). There’s even an MMA site (which has something to do with fighting, so I’m told).

As part of such a family, my mission at the book site is to try to cover a wide range of books and to comment where I can on what things people are reading. As the owner is constantly saying, we have to be more than a review site. We need to be a source of information. For books, that task can be pretty daunting. To avoid becoming a niche site, I've had to learn to stretch beyond what I would normally read.

The good folks at FSB Associates, the organization behind Love of Reading, have helped to do that with information about a wide variety of authors and books. It was through them that I was fascinated by the Intellectual Devotional. Thanks to them, I laughed and was warmed by Kevin Clash and his memoirs, My Life as a Furry Red Monster. They set me up with Adrienne Brodeur and her hilarious Man Camp. They left me outraged at what we're putting our teens through Alexandra Robbins' The Overachievers. It's been a good relationship that has helped pull me out of my comfort zone.

I've also taken to perusing best seller lists and ruminating over why people are reading what they're reading (or at least, buying what they're buying whether or not they're reading it). I've especially come to enjoy the Amazon top-seller list. It's one of those spyholes into the reading psyche, a hidden horoscope of American culture. It's like reading a code that tries to predict where the shifts in our cultural thinking are about to take place.

Bestselling titles reflected such things as the shift from support to opposition to the Iraqi war, the move from angry conservativeness to hesitant moderation.

Now, my study has been so loose as to almost not merit so weighty a word as "study," but as an indicator of trends, I've found the list to hold great interest. It invites all sorts of wonderful conjecture from wild to thoughtful.

A year ago, non-fiction books dominated the list. Was it a desire to make some sort of sense out of the world around us? Even the fiction tended to be contemporary realism, with settings often placed in the hot spots of current events. One of the exceptions to that was the beautiful Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards—a book that is featured here at Love of Reading. Yet, even that book was based on a real-life event, though it was the author who infused that event with the moral and ethical questions raised in her novel.

At other times, on the top-seller list seemed to report on spiritual and ideological warfare, with theological arguments battling for attention. Even the fiction got into the game with such books as Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code breaking all sorts of records and C.S. LewisThe Chronicles of Narnia making a comeback. This year, Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass is climbing back on, throwing yet another voice into the mix.

Looking at the list today, it seems we’ve made a sharp turn into New Age spirituality, a spirituality that lets us hold onto our obsessions about our body and physical health. The top five books are all about improving one’s soul, life, health, and diet. It’s not until you get to #6 that Khaled Hosseini makes a bid for fiction’s place on the list with his A Thousand Splendid Suns. Such a bid is quickly shoved aside by Stephen Colbert, the as-yet unreleased “An Inconvenient Book”, a dog story, and numerous other self-help and guide books. Even James Patterson can only make #14 with his latest Alex Cross book.

What does all this mean? Are we looking inward more? Do we think this is a time for improvement and a new form of escapism? Are we trying to meet ourselves in the pages of other people’s books?

Who knows!

But I do know that I'll continue to read the list and wonder why we're reading what we're reading and what it means for our future. For somewhere in the pages of what we read, we discover and renew our passions. While my passions may not be the same as my neighbors, the better I can understand theirs, the more likely we are to find common ground and to connect with each other in a healthy, joyful manner.

Is it any wonder that so many of us have a Love of Reading?


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