|A Buddhist bookshop in Ho Chi Minh City|
Recently I was chatting to my friend Dianne Masri and she told me that the last three books she has purchased were suggested to her by people on Twitter. What’s more, of those three books, all three authors contacted her directly after she mentioned them on Twitter – and these included some big names. Like it or not, the world of social media is already affecting how and what people read. And interaction between author and reader is at a depth and immediacy that couldn’t even have been imagined even six years ago.
In many ways reading has become more charged with emotion. It has become once again a communal activity – just witness the enormous growth in popularity of book clubs and writers’ festivals. People want to share their ideas, and they want to share spaces with other people who read. It seems that at last the bookish people might be inheriting the world.
Stephanie Dowrick and I felt called to create the UniversalHeart Book Club because we wanted to share the process of reading, and the discovery of new stories and ideas, with like-minded people all across the world. When there is so much doom and gloom surrounding the future of publishing, the future of reading and the future of the book itself, we wanted to raise our flag and say: “Guess what? We love reading, we love books and we love writers. Let’s celebrate this love.”
So, donning my prophet’s hat (I’m not telling you what it looks like), I am going to stick my neck out and make a few predictions about the future of reading:
The ebook is here to stay and its popularity will grow incredibly quickly – OK, so you don’t have to be Nostradamus to work this one out, but some people are still cautious (including many publishers). I finally relented recently when a precious friend gave me a Kindle reader. And to be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had with a piece of technology for a long while.
The paper book will live on, but will become an increasingly beautiful and valued object – Yes, tough times are coming for paper-based publishing. Indeed, they may well have arrived. But a book is a beautiful thing of immense cultural significance. I predict that the paper book and the ebook will diverge and develop into very different media.
There will be a renaissance of literary societies – As everything ever published slowly becomes available in digital formats, book geekery will only grow. Shakespeare societies, Austen clubs and Dickens fellowships will flourish in a self-conscious emulation of the old Victorian model of literary study. People seek, not just other readers, but other readers who enjoy the same books as them. I am about to join the E. F. Benson Society, and I wonder if there is an Oscar Wilde Society? And should I establish a Nancy Mitford Society?
The library will flourish – I tear my hair out when I read about local authorities all over the world starving libraries of funds. I don’t know a library anywhere that isn’t thriving. Sure, the services they provide are changing, but essentially they remain hubs of learning. They are also, increasingly, becoming important venues for the propagation and promotion of local literary cultures.
Am I right on, or am I a naive fool living in the past?
I’d love to hear what you think – do leave a comment and let us know your predictions for the future of reading.