The NY Times recently featured an article about a woman in Beijing who stands by a busy road and reads out loud during heavy traffic. She has become somewhat of a celebrity. Commuters see her every day and wonder what she is doing. She isn't reading to the people in the cars--she is teaching herself English, and she figures that if she reads out loud in such a distracting environment, it will help the words really sink in. She has been doing this for five years. And now she is teaching other people English, people who got out of their cars to see what she was up to.
I think about the "Get Caught Reading" campaign in libraries a few years back, and I wonder if we need to set more readers in unexpected places, turn them into celebrities like this woman in Beijing. Reading is an endangered activity--we have to find ways to sex it up, to make it more intriguing to those who wouldn't automatically reach for a book.
At Book Expo America last year, the publisher of The Purpose Driven Life had the hallways of the McCormick Center in Chicago lined with paid "readers" holding TPDL in front of their faces. I think each person was supposed to represent one million readers who have already bought the book (obviously the book is a huge seller.) It was kind of cheesy--and I highly doubt most of these people were actually reading the book (most of them were just staring blankly at the pages)--but it was quite visually arresting to see dozens upon dozens of readers standing in a row. I know some publishers plant readers in subways and buses and on park benches with their book du jour so they can talk it up to the masses. So a few things are being done here and there to make reading more visible and viable, but we have to do more.
I'm so frustrated that I'm not at BEA this year. It's happening in NY as I write. BEA is the biggest publishing convention of the year; it's like Mardi Gras for book lovers. Tons of authors to meet. Free books everywhere (and other free goodies like tote bags and other tchotchkes; I ruined my back when BEA was in LA a couple of years ago because I was so greedy. I kept filling up my backpack with book upon book. I still haven't gotten through all of them.) This is the first year in four that I haven't gone. Maybe I'll be able to go next year when it's in Washington, DC. In the meanwhile, we can vicariously visit via blogs like The Elegant Variation and Moorish Girl.