13 January 2008

Goodreads politics

Simultaneous with reading Lidia's last post, I got involved in the past couple weeks with Goodreads, a networking site that operates on the basis of books -- who's read what, how you felt about it. It's not quite coming in each other's mouths, but it's addictive, promising, and emphasizes -- I'm right there with ya, Lid -- READING. One of the probs with the "year's best" lists we come up with is that inevitably we're listing our friends, and even if they write great books, it feels a little bit too local for me (besides which, there's the inevitable "hey, how come he didn't list MY book"!). A more outwardly networked service like Goodreads let's you list your faves, and then the listing riffs out into worlds semi-known and totally new.

Reading = Jouissance, yes, yes, yes... but I also feel nowadays a need to have a fully political commitment to reading as well. The new NEA report on reading, "To Read or Not to Read" (pdf), which updates the earlier 2004 report,"Reading at Risk," begins with three factual statements about our failing democracy:

• Americans are spending less time reading.
• Reading comprehension skills are eroding.
• These declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications.

Reading is becoming more and more explicitly a political act,and promoting reading certainly is. I made phonecalls for John Kerry in 2004 (I called Pennsylvania, which he won) -- now I'm trying to devote more time to promoting reading. Starcherone Books is a non-profit -- as are many small presses -- whose legal justification is as an educational organization promoting reading. That once felt like a convenient legal loophole in order to compete for grant money. It doesn't anymore.