Many studies document the importance of social eating to help combat malnutrition in the elderly, especially those who live alone with few opportunities to take their meals in company.
A recent survey on these lines started me wondering about the importance of social reading in aiding our enjoyment of the books. From simple observation over time, I have noticed some readers tend to desert fiction for factual accounts--biographies, autobiographies, memoirs--as they grow older.
"No time to read rubbish," my mother used to say. "I want to know about real people."
Others prefer to linger in fiction that recalls a past era they remember with nostalgia--historical novels, family sagas, sweet romances of their youth.
But what everyone I know has in common is the enjoyment of discussing what they like and dislike with friends. We may love or hate Dan Brown or Jeffrey Archer or even Harry Potter (surely not! lol) but authors and their characters are as real to us as our neighbors And the importance of gossip in life is indisputable.
E-Books and Housebound Readers
With the advent of computers and e-books, more and more elderly readers are able to access books in their homes. But will readers stop finding enjoyment in books just as they stop being interested in eating without the social interaction afforded by book clubs, libraries and sharing with friends?
Our library now has a set of machines to use for checking books in and out. Yes, it's quicker, more convenient, more like the supermarket where the checkout has to process so many items per minute and there's rarely time to talk.
But for elderly readers whose library is as vital as their foodstore, it's another chance lost to discuss reading with a librarian or interested browser.
We don't swap e-books like we used to swap books--yes, I know we shouldn't, but we do. There's no-one to visit the housebound pensioner to exchange books and discuss their opinions.
A bewildering amount of choice faces the e-book reader. With the rise of the printing press, no-one could ever have dreamed that there would be too many books available to read in a lifetime.
People then read to each other, spoke about what they read, waited eagerly to access what they wanted to read.
With the instant gratification of 24-hour e-book supply, will books be like sweeties? Will people find themselves sick of reading? Will we suffer from reading malnutrition from over-or under-indulgence?
More importantly, how do we, as readers, form our discussion groups to allow ourselves the joy of social reading when no-one we know is interested in reading the same book?
Anne Duguid is a senior content editor with MuseItUp Publishing and her New Year's Resolution is to blog with helpful writing,editing and publishing tips at Slow and Steady Writers far more regularly than she managed in 2011.
Illustrations from the gallery at www.oldbookart.com