Monday, June 18, 2007

Book Likers Are People Too

Part-time reader Julia Keller writes in yesterday's Chicago Tribune that people like her are critical to the survival of the publishing industry. I agree with Julia that "book likers" are an important target audience for publishers, and at the risk of being labeled as someone she would describe as "swaddled in snobbery," I have to say that I suspect it's "book likers" who largely determine the makeup of the various Best Seller lists, bleak as those lists generally are.
You don't have to love books. It's OK just to like them. It's OK to be a casual reader, a sometime scholar, an occasional consumer of print. It's acceptable to read a book every once in a while, for the simple reason that you happen upon one that intrigues you -- without quitting your job, selling your furniture and going back to graduate school in comparative literature.

In the midst of last weekend's wonderful Printers Row Book Fair, I listened to author after author, moderator after moderator, panelist after panelist (including me), automatically refer to the assembled multitude as "book lovers." Now, book lovers are wonderful. Book lovers are essential. I love book lovers. But it occurred to me that the audience surely included a good number of people -- perhaps even a majority -- who, if pressed, would classify themselves as "book likers." As people who enjoy reading, as people who respect authors and seek knowledge, but for whom reading is not a consuming, world-obliterating, walls-come-tumblin'-down passion.
Book lovers remain a fairly stable unit from century to century, a crucial but relatively small segment of the population for whom words are life itself. Book lovers, that is, aren't a growth area.
My only real quibble with Julia is her implication that that all book lovers are "those whose livelihoods depend on the publishing industry." I don't believe that's even close to being a true statement. But putting that aside, I'm all for giving three cheers for "book likers" who support bookstores, authors and publishers on at least a part-time basis. That support just might be enough to make the difference.


  1. I appreciated her overall sentiment, but that implication you cited was just one of several dumb statements in her article, the most ridiculous being that the Printers Row Book Fair was loaded with casual "book likers", with relatively few "book lovers." Sorry, Julia, but casual readers don't trek all the way to downtown Chicago to peruse the cluttered shelves of independent presses and used booksellers, and they definitely don't attend panel discussions and author readings. If you do those things, rather than just lazily stop by your neighborhood chain store, you're a lover of books. You can quite readily be a book lover without your livelihood being dependent on the publishing industry -- in fact, to me the very definition of "book lover" is someone who has a passion for literature without getting paid for it.

  2. Pete, that comment about the majority of people sitting in the audience at the book show with her likely being "book likers" rather than book lovers caught my eye too. And I had exactly the same reaction that you had...a bit of wishful thinking on her part to make herself feel better is my guess.

    But she coined a new phrase for me (at least I don't recall seeing anyone use it before): "book likers." That might come in handy again one day. :-)

  3. Somehow, I manage to read nearly 300 books a year while excelling in a demanding career field which is completely unrelated to the publishing industry AND hanging onto my furniture! I wonder what she'd make of me?

  4. She would call you a book goddess, I suspect. :-)

    I realize that her column is based entirely on her own opinions and perceptions, but I sure find a lot of it to be ludicrous...most everything, in fact, except her main point that "book likers" are important to the industry's ultimate bottom line success.