The New York Times today has a good read about one of the major drawbacks of ebooks — how “it is not always possible to see what others are reading or to project your own literary tastes.”
The story points out that if you’re reading on an IPhone, Kindle, Sony Reader… whatever… no one’s going to know what you’re reading… there won’t be a book jacket to notice, a title that might catch your eyes… And while it’s not likely bookstores are about to completely disappear — there are problems out there and not having a store to walk and browse could lead to more stores closing.
But today is not the day to dwell on the bookstore browsing experience.
I would like to use this opportunity to talk about another problem with ebooks — you need a device to read one and many schools around the country are unable to afford books let alone devices on which they can be read. Just look at the recent stories about “Race to the Top” grants and the disappointment some states felt because they couldn’t get more money for schools.
For a slightly more informed perspective, I’d like to turn this over for a moment to Biz Mitchell, a great reporter whose 2000 W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty probably should have been read by many, many more people and whose Three Strides Before the Wire is just absolutely fabulous, moving, well-written (insert your own words of praise and you won’t be far off).
“Books are the greatest gift you can give a student,” she wrote me the other day. “A student might have a bad teacher or a good teacher, but if he or she can select a book to read, that student is going to have access to the wider world, to history, to human struggles and delights.
In November 2008, Biz and some friends started a group called ReadThis (here they are on Facebook). I’ll let her tell the story.
“Back in November 2008, post-Obama election, some writer friends and I who had volunteered at the grassroots for that campaign got sick of hearing about the death of books. I saw an article in the Times about a middle/high school out in deep Brooklyn where the librarian had to space the books out on the shelves to make it look like they had more to choose from. We held a book drive for them and were able to deliver a couple thousand books to that school.
“We also put up an online wishlist. The circulation rate went up from something like 23 books taken out in the September before we helped, to 219 or something in the September after we helped. When I later went to the school to pick up “extras” that the library didn’t need, I decided instead that people had donated the books with that school in mind. I offered the books to a senior English class coming in for a session.
“The students yelped with delight, jumped up and down, hugged me, and carted away 19 boxes of great literature and nonfiction. The librarian said, “Can you believe this?”
What makes it even more astonishing is that when Biz went to a member of the Board of Education to try and get some funding — any funding — she was blown off with “Forget it. Kids don’t read.”
Since then, Biz and the others have stepped up their efforts.
“Another high school school in the Bronx had no library and now through ReadThis does. At an elementary school in the Bronx, where we delivered thousands of books (with the help of one of our 12-year-old members who held a bar mitzvah drive and collected about 2500 books), the principal teared up and put everyone who delivered them on their Wall of Heroes.”
According to the Daily News, as of a couple of years ago, 17,000 kids in the Bronx have no school libraries and Biz thinks the number is now substantially higher.
To help further the fight to get books in the hands of kids, Biz and company — along with the Center for Fiction — are turning Saturday April 10 into Books for NYC Schools Day, a full day of events with readings by Jamaica Kincaid, Sam Lipsyte, Rick Moody, Elizabeth Gilbert and others.
The price of admission is two books. And, if you’re like me — thousands of miles away and unable to attend — you can go here and make a donation online.
Clearly there are many great things about IPads, Kindles and the like…. there are also many great things about old fashioned printed books and until we can find a way to get a device to anyone who wants one, let’s remember the joy of discovering books the old fashioned way.