Reading has been a beloved hobby for many since the advent of the printing press, when people were first able to produce and distribute printed text on a mass scale. Through the decades, reading has gained popularity amongst all kinds of people. Some readers prefer fantastical stories or lurid mysteries, while others enjoy learning from nonfiction books or taking a walk in someone else’s shoes through biographies and memoirs. Whatever your reasons for reading, you can’t deny that a lot has changed between the reading culture of your youth and reading nowadays.
Reading: Then and Now
The Arrival of E-Books
Let’s start with one of the most obvious transitions in reading culture: the fact that many people now prefer to read electronic books, also known as e-books. Instead of turning a tangible page, they tap the corner of a digital screen. Available on e-readers (like Kindle and Nook), tablets, and regular computers, e-books make it easy to read books on the go. They’re also very convenient right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when most libraries and bookstores around the country are closed. Although e-books have been around for decades, they didn’t gain popularity until the late 2000s and early 2010s. Now, according to a study conducted by Pew Research in 2019, about 7 percent of U.S. adults surveyed only read digital books. Another 28 percent read both print and digital books. Clearly, e-books have come a long way.
Audiobooks: From Cassette Tapes and CDs to Digital Downloads
Another popular way to consume literary content is through audio. According to PBS, audiobooks debuted in 1932, when they were produced in a recording studio by the American Foundation for the Blind. In the 1960s, you could find audiobooks on cassette tapes. In the 1980s, they were found on CDs. But now, you can listen to audiobooks digitally using your cell phone. More than 67 million Americans listen to audiobooks annually, according to Audio Publisher’s Association. If you’ve never given an audiobook a try, we encourage you to try it. They make perfect listening material for long drives, walks, or even housework.
Moving Past Banned Books
Book banning has a long history, but it reached an all-time high in the 1970s. Communities were constantly fielding complaints about books for a variety of reasons – violence, sexuality, drug use, profanity, racism, etc. – and many libraries chose to ban certain books from circulation. Some classic books that were frequently banned include Brave New World, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and The Catcher in the Rye. Eventually this led to the creation of Banned Books Week in 1982, which aimed to bring awareness to book banning, remove restrictions from books, and emphasize the importance of open access to information. Fortunately, these days we have unprecedented access to reading material. If you can’t find a particular book at your library, just visit your local bookstore or purchase it online.
Tiny Bookstores to Megachains
When you were young, you likely purchased most of your books from local booksellers. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that mammoth chains entered the market. Barnes & Noble and Border’s, which were the two largest book retailers in the United States, dominated the market for a time. More recently, Barnes & Noble has come under threat by non-specialized retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, and of course Amazon.com (which actually began as online bookstore). Borders closed its doors about a decade ago, in 2011. Small bookstores often struggle to survive with so much competition, so if you enjoy browsing at local bookshops, we encourage you to support them. Check out M. Judson Booksellers, “an independent literary hub” located in downtown Greenville.
What are you reading these days? And how do think reading, books, or even literary works have changed over time? If you’re in a book club, this would be a great discussion topic for your next meeting.
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