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Monday, August 4, 2014

Two Queens & a Bandwagon ~ By Rose Anderson

I read a study once regarding Oprah's lasting effect on books. Before Oprah shared her love of reading with the world, book sales were pretty much standing still. Why read when TV gives you visuals?

Here's an interesting parallel. Years before Oprah started her famous Book Club, another study done in the Netherlands revealed from 1955 to 1975 (which just so happens to be the years television sunk its roots into their households), reading dropped to just three hours a week while TV viewing rose to ten hours.  By 1995, Dutch reading had gone from occupying nearly 30% of their time to just 9%.

On a personal level, my husband and I strictly limited television for our kids. Yes, they balked at the time. Our kids are grown now and both are readers - my son an avid informational reader (like his mom) and my daughter a voracious reader of everything (she is the most well-read person I know). Would you believe they say things like "TV won't be in my house when I have kids" or "TV is pointless, no one needs it in their house."? Children don't come with instructions, a parent just never knows if their muddled choices will come back to haunt them. In this case we did OK. Whew.

There's no doubt Oprah played a role in our renaissance of the written word. She did so by using her Book Club as a challenge. We Americans love a good bandwagon and will lean toward anything with mass appeal. Throw a challenge in there and you're in. Do it enough and you've created a habit. 

According to a report on CNN, during the 14 years of Oprah's Book Club, fans bought millions of copies of Oprah's selected reading suggestions. A book picked by Oprah guaranteed additional printings and whopping paychecks for publishers and authors. Nice.

Just the other day, I read about Indy romance authors raking in 6-figures for ebook versions of their works.
Though new studies show paper book sales are down, they counter that by saying ebook sales are booming.  

With all those ebooks flying off virtual shelves, no one mentions the glut of freebies on the market, nor the 45,000 free ebooks to be had through Project Gutenberg. People are reading those too, but they're not counted as sales. If you're unfamiliar with this resource, give it a look. I think it's great to put literature into people's hands and Project Gutenberg keeps the old classics alive. The motto of this ambitious project: to break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy. 

If you aren't familiar with Johannes Gutenberg, he's the guy who invented the moveable type printing press some time in the mid-1400's. His goal was to inexpensively put bibles in the hands of common people. Up until this inspired invention, books were painstakingly written out by hand and as such were too costly for most people to own. It was a short hop to go from bibles to everyday reading materials. 

The fact the wealthiest people owned them, made books very appealing to those less fortunate in the same way people buy cheaper reproductions of things owned by wealthy people today. Can you imagine what cheaply had books did for the psyche of the common man? Books told you anything was possible. Including a better life. I think this is one reason why romance is so popular. In a world of war, bad news, and struggle and strife, what could possibly be more appealing than happy ever after?

An interesting sidebar ~
Before the inexpensive books arrived, sharing them was common. A reader wouldn't dream of damaging a rare book by bending a dog ear to mark the page. It didn't take long before someone came up with the idea of a small piece of parchment as a placeholder. Voila -- the bookmark was born. They became quite fancy as the fashion caught on. Ribbons, cords, feathers on cords, tabs on cords, you name it. If it was flat and could mark a page, it was used. One of my favorite things to find in old books is a pressed rose.

Queen Elizabeth I was an avid reader. She had bookmarks made for herself and those close to her. Of course this made them even more popular. I'm thinking Queen Elizabeth was that era's Oprah. Queen of England - Queen of Talk, people emulate those they admire.

About Rose
Rose is multi-published award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and discovering interesting things to weave into stories. She lives with her family and small menagerie amid oak groves and prairie in the rolling glacial hills of the upper Midwest. 


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Cara Marsi said...

Very interesting post, Rose, especially the part about the history of bookmarks. No doubt the rise of TV has a lot to do with people reading less. Congratulations to you that both your kids are avid readers. I did everything I could to make my son into an avid reader, but alas, it didn't work. He takes after my husband who isn't a reader.

Sandy said...

Rose, you write the most interesting blogs. As a kid, I was an avid reader. I don't read as much now because I'm writing, promo and all the other stuff that goes with writing.

Cara, my husband always read a lot, but it was always to learn something. He isn't into fiction even though I've told him it's about real life. lol

Michele Zurlo said...

I find the data on reading very interesting. I'd like to know what the impact of video games is on television as well. Lots of kids spend time creating worlds and acting out stories. Also, I like to write in books. I used to regard them reverently, but once I started annotating, reading became more interactive for me. Great post, Rose! Thanks for sharing.

vicki batman said...

Wow, Rose, lots of great information. I recently saw an article which said a large percentage of young people prefer books over ebooks. My kids didn't read because they read so much for school. But now? They read many things, but a lot of it is nonfiction.

JoAnne Myers said...

A very interesting post Rose. I also enjoy reseaching topics. good luck with all you do.

Jane Leopold Quinn said...

Also thought the comment about the inception of bookmarks was interesting. Do NOT dog ear a page!! ;-)

Since Oprah was anti-romance books, I'm not a fan of hers, but QE I - yes.

I don't know what the future holds as far as e-books v. paper books v. video games v. TV. All I can say is personally, books have always been my sanctuary from life. Any way to read is okay with me.

Melissa Keir said...

I've always cheered anyone who got someone excited about reading. When Harry Potter first came out there was a lot of discussion about the magic and content for children. I loved that the book got so many children, esp. boys interested in reading.

Some parents get angry that their children read books like Anime or Manga (comic type books) comment was always I'm glad your child is reading.

You always have the most informative blogs, Rose and I learn so much! Thanks for sharing!

Paris said...

I never thought of Queen Elizabeth as her days Oprah but people have always emulated those they admire. I find the evolution of reading, fascinating. Thanks for the informative and interesting post!

jean hart stewart said...

Enjoyed your post very much.. thanks for all the information. Especially the bit about Queen Elizabeth...

Tina Donahue said...

It's sad that reading seems to be a lost or fading art. I grew up in a house where the TV was ALWAYS on. Dawn to dusk and beyond. It bored me. I preferred reading. Still do.

Janice Seagraves said...

It seems odd to me that people don't read. I read a great deal, and books have always been in my house, when I was growing up and in my own home today.

Perhaps ebooks are going to correct that trend since it popular to own a reader.


Polly McCrillis said...

A Project Gutenberg ebook was the first ebook I'd ever utilized for research. A diary of the history of Sumatra, written by an explorer in the early 1800s provided most of my information for my historical, Almost Forsaken. Marvelous resource, so much information, and free!

Like you, I love finding bookmarks and pressed flowers and tucked between pages of a book. As owner of a secondhand bookshop, I have quite a collection. Great post, Rose, thank you.

Rose Anderson said...

Thank you one and all. My dog just passed away and I'm grieving so I wasn't online today to answer and comment. I so appreciate your taking the time from your busy days to stop by and comment. I'm glad you found something worthwhile. Have a nice evening.

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