Reading is for Life

Robinson Crusoe and friends
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.

E-Book Surfeit
Man being read to
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


widdershins said...

Reading this, I am reminded of times past when a new technology allowed things to happen faster, more efficiently (although not necessarily so) and some bemoaned the fate of what had been superceded. The most famous one being that print books would disappear within a few years if not months of the eBook revolution beginning - I wonder what those people are thinking now?

Readers, no matter what their age category, are a rather smart lot. They will find their community in whatever form it exists.

eBooks, as a child of the interwebz, are intimately linked to social media, (for good or ill)and that is where one very powerful form of community can always be found.

Our elderly are more computer savvy than were ever dream'd of in the imaginings of youth. And becomming more so.

elysabeth said...

Interesting post, Anne. You hit some very important points about social reading and eating and other aspects of our lives. By nature, we are social but with the advent of technology, we've become less social. My job is an anti-social one so I look forward to doing book events (festivals and conferences or places where I have interaction with folks who are reading my books) as well as the once a month Sisters in Crime meetings I attend. It gets me out of the house and interacting with like-minded folks. It's my socialization time.

I do still like my print books but I also love my Kindle for reading on the fly - when I've got some down time at events or when I'm traveling and needing to relax a bit before going to sleep. My kindle is well used - lol.

I've not participated in book clubs or other reading type groups like you describe but I still pop into my local library just to chat with the librarian and show off my latest creations or talk about upcoming books - because I will eventually give them a copy of anything I print - lol.

thanks for sharing these thoughts with us - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal (ghost)mystery
"The Proposal" (an April Fools Day story), a humorous romance ebook
"The Tulip Kiss", a paranormal (ghost) romance ebook
"Bride-and-Seek", a paranormal (ghost) romance ebook

Magdalena Ball said...

You raise some interesting questions Annie, and while older people do tend to be just a wee bit slower to pick up new technology than younger people, ebooks and of course audio books have really penetrated the older market because of their role in helping those with poor vision (for ebooks, being able to increase the typeface). But you can't see what people are reading on their ebook readers - no cover to connect with - no off the cuff conversation on airplanes when I notice someone is reading a book I've read and loved. So the role of formal social groups is even more important. That's where the library becomes so pivotal. "Books and Bickies" groups help draw in seniors who get together for a cup of tea and a few biscuits and chat about a mutually determined book that is available in a range of formats (including loaned e-books and audio books) directly from the library. These schemes are a win-win for everyone since the library maintains links with their aging community, readers have a support network and easily available books on popular topics plus the joy of reading, and authors get to see their books shared with a broader audience. At my local library, sometimes the author even visits these groups to talk about their themes, the readers' perceptions and join in the fun. I'm doing one at my local library later this year. I hope more libraries will support and nurture these groups for all the reasons you suggest.

Heidiwriter said...

This is an era of huge changes in the book world. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the near future. Very interesting post-food for thought.

Donna McDine said...


Terrific thought provoking article. To help people keep in the groove with reading my chiropractor has a book case in his waiting room for swaping books. Take one, leave one concept. Often times, the elderly who come in take advantage of it.

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Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

I think it will be interesting to see how the change in the industry will impact book selection.

D. Jean Quarles said...

Very interesting thoughts.

Kathleen Moulton said...

I felt a bit melancholy after reading your post. I'm not very optimistic in thinking we can preserve the old ways. We've lost the art of conversation - front porch and Sunday dinners - no matter what we do.

Very interesting article!


Anne Duguid Knol said...

With amazing synchronicity, I had in my email a post from Caitlin Muir at AuthorMedia telling me about and Book Shout.

She describes it as
"an online book club…on steroids."
Readers will be able to discuss and compare impressions with others world-wide. They'll even have access to author's notes.

So looks like you're right. All may be solved. lol

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Thanks Elysabeth, I still think real face to face contact as you have at the library,the book events and your writers' meetings is vitally important as an anti-anti-social measure.

I have been AWOL for the past few days trying to re-insert myself into the real world and it can be hard work compared to the ease of cyberworld socialization hehe

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Great point about the over-the-shoulder reading habits which lead to striking up conversations, Maggie.
And I do envy you your library. Ours seem to be moving farther from books into DVDs and cyber-lending. We can knit and natter in the library but there are far fewer librarians on hand with time to talk.
Fortunately the job is being supplemented by enthusiastic volunteers who do want to talk about books.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Thanks Heidi
I do not for a moment believe books will go--we'd have to start an underground books movement if so lol
But it is alarming how many bookstores have become book supermarkets, so effectively restricting browing choice.
It is so much easier just to accept the Amazon option and there lies food for even more thought...

Anne Duguid Knol said...

What a super idea. We have a similar scheme in the pub and the local shop which is great but dare I whisper author royalties

punctuation has given up on me --apologies for eecumings style postings...

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Non fiction I believe sells better...

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Thanks Jean. let's see what the industry comes up with...

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Sorry Kathleen, my reply seems to have gone awol here. However over in the UK more and more charities are running breakfast and lunch events and encouraging street parties. The tide may be turning after all.

anthony stemke said...

A very interesting post. Like the music industry, the book industry is changing rapidly and becoming more fragmented.
I don't know how it is going to shake out.

Wendy said...

I love your idea that social reading is as important as social eating. With social eating we bring a favourite dish to share and talk about, swap recipes or simply delight in the food with others.

With social reading, readers bring a favourite book to share and talk about. Plenty of books, plenty of discussions.

However, in today's computerized world so many readers are writers. They bring their own book to talk about - in person or on line and, let's face it, which book in the group will the author be most interested in?

Social reading loses its appeal when it becomes 'socialize to sell my book' and when the feedback is stiled praise. Such a group is likely to become boring after a while. So I think it isn't 'over or under indulgence' on the part of the reader that keeps them away, but this new wave of promotional authors in reading groups.

But social reading must be revived. As readers, we should create venues for reading groups for 'readers'. And what's to stop a reader, or group of readers, offering to take a book or ereader to a retirement home, or private home, and read aloud chapters from a book of the listener's choice.

So, to me, the question whether great stories are read in books or ereaders, doesn't matter. If the gathering is stimulated to discuss a favourite story, the participants communicate with, and nourish each other, which, as you point out Annie, is the purpose of social reading.

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