Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reading is a Social Activity. When I was a kid, it totally wasn't.

Reading has changed utterly, and I'm thrilled by it.

On my bookshelf in the "movie" section sits a copy of The Golden Turkey Awards, by Michael and Harry Medved. Next to it is Nightwalkers, an excellent book on Gothic horror movies by Bruce Wright.

Golden Turkey came out in 1980 or '81. Nightwalkers came out in 1995-- that one's just fifteen years old. But when both of these books came out, it was a different world, both in terms of how one read and enjoyed them, and how one went on to check out the movies that the authors talked about.

Let's look at Golden Turkey-- this is a funny book that uses the gimmick of imaginary awards like "The Most Ridiculous Monster in Screen History" to gather together the best nominees. (My favorite was always "Robot Monster," a man in a gorilla costume wearing a diving helmet.)
When I first got this book in the mid-80s, it was essentially a fun read to pass around the school bus. That would be the extent of the social aspect of enjoying it. If my friends laughed at the comments about Robot Monster, that was the extent of our experience.

We couldn't actually have a party to watch Robot Monster because, of course, no video store carried it, and it wasn't likely to turn up on TV. (It might, but who knew? You only knew what was coming up within the current week.) We couldn't order it from Amazon, because Amazon did not exist, and when that first came around, it didn't offer movies, and anyway, who was going to sell Robot Monster?

In 1996 I wound up in Austin and, wandering the streets in a daze brought on by the blinding sun so well described in James Hynes' NEXT,  I dropped into a downtown library and borrowed Nightwalkers.  Now, this was '96, so the first thing I did was post a review on Amazon. Because I was unemployed but somehow had the Internet.

But you know what there wasn't? There wasn't an online universe dedicated to discussing books like Goodreads-- at least not that enough people used that it could make sense to check in every day. Authors didn't have blogs where they discussed their books. I didn't start blogging until around 2000, myself. And in the meantime, if Golden Turkey Awards or Nightwalkers came out today, the experience of reading them would be vastly transformed, because of course now, if you want to see anything, you can.

When I was a child in the 1980s, I walked across the sunbaked fields of central Texas to a used bookstore and bought spy novels at 25 cents apiece. I read them alone. Today we still read alone, but that's where the loneliness ends. It is an utterly different world.


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