A Community of Readers

Recently, Amazon announced lending for Kindle e-books and the response was mixed. An unscientific scan of my Twitter network ranged from joy to skepticism.  Some were relieved to finally be able to share some of the books they had collected on their beloved e-reader. Others complained, vociferously, that purchasing from the Kindle store should mean purchasing the book, not just the rights to the book.  They were advocating for a more robust lending ability: at issue was the fine print of new lending feature.  From Amazon.com:

Eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days. The borrower does not need to own a Kindle — Kindle books can also be read using our free Kindle reading applications for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. Not all books are lendable — it is up to the publisher or rights holder to determine which titles are eligible for lending. The lender will not be able to read the book during the loan period.

These stipulations– it’s not a universal feature, you can only lend your book once and only for 14 days–were perceived as too restrictive. If we are slapping down our hard-earned cash to buy an e-book, we should have all the rights we have when we buy a physical copy, right?

But making something that exists in the physical world digital does not just change the format. There is a transformation, a difference that extends beyond pages and bytes. For one thing, I can’t hack my copy of Great Expectations to magically replicate itself, thus overflowing my house with Dickens’ great tale.  (POST EDIT: Just read this fantastic piece by Saundra Mitchell about the true cost of free: a chilling reminder about the business of books and the high cost of piracy, the burden of which is borne by the content creators).This is, of course, the pervading fear of the publishers and authors, who go to great time and expense to deliver the content to consumers in the various formats.  Borders, who once held the second-largest share of the book market, is on the brink of bankruptcy. The book business is hurting, and I want to ensure my ability to get new content.  For that, I am willing to pay.  Additionally, I love reading on my Kindle, and for that I will sacrifice the affordances of a physical book.

But what I think might be at the core of this issue is not the rights and responsibilities of book buyers and book sellers.  What I believe to be at the core of this issue is our strong need to build communities of readers around us. Reading, after all, is a solitary experience. Yet we yearn, especially after reading something profound and transformative, to turn around and thrust the book into the hands of those we know.  “Read this,” we implore.  We can’t contain ourselves.

Social media has only encouraged and enhanced this experience, especially in the ways that students and teachers use it.  Whether it be Paul Hankins‘ RAW INK Ning or the #titlechat discussions on Twitter or the GoodReads groups of classrooms, schools, and communities, we are sharing our experiences, our loves and our hates, with one another.  Communities of readers persist and proliferate.

Because of these communities, I have read books that have moved me and made my life better, books that I never would have thought to read otherwise. I know I value my community of readers and this is one reason why I often buy physical copies of books, despite the ease of downloading them to one of my many gadgets.  In the end, I have the sense that I am going to read it, turn to someone close to me, and carefully pass it along.

What does your community of readers look like?


  1. Ok
    I’ll try it as a writer ….

    Good question here, Andrea. My community of readers is all over the place — from my students (I keep an eye on what they are reading) to the NWP Book Ning to Goodreads to Twitter to friends in my neighborhood. The community is both online and here with me in my home (my wife).
    I like that it stretches in many directions.

  2. That’s a great point, Kevin: it seems that each of these communities are as intricate as the relationships themselves. I think that’s what I love reading so much: for the ways it connects me to others’ experiences and lives. Whether it be the new understanding or perspective I gain from the text itself, or the shared experience of reading it with others I care about, reading worms its way to the center of a great many of my relationships. Thanks for the thoughts, Kevin! –Andrea

  3. Great post Andrea. I will not buy young adult lit ebooks because I can’t easily lend them to students. I think this may be the case for the foreseeable future.

    1. Joel,

      Appreciate your comment. I’ve also been watching the library programs really closely: it will be interesting to see the ways in which they implement lending of e-books. My local library has some weird lending program in which you need a device I’ve never heard of or read it in your browser. Other libraries are lending out actual Nooks and Kindles.

  4. I am also reluctant to buy YA for my Kindle because I know I will want to add to my classroom library to share with my students. Based on numbers and amount of time I spend, my students are my biggest reading community. Many of them come to it very reluctantly. I do all I can to invite and cajole them to join, and I still have students who tell me, “I don’t like reading”–even though some of these students read more than double or triple the amount I expect from them.
    I do love the highlight and share feature on my Kindle. When I read a passage that moves me, I can immediately highlight it and then click SHARE to share it on Facebook. Those posts seem to get more response than any others as friends give their reaction to the book or offer recommendations for more books.

    1. Kay,

      I haven’t been using the share feature on the Kindle much, but it is something I resolve to do more of. I agree that it really piques interest within a community of readers. With YA or other books I may want to lend, I find myself downloading a sample to “test it out” and then heading to the library or to a bookstore if I think it will be something that I may want to lend out eventually. Now that I am not teaching full-time and going to school, I don’t quite have as much occasion to lend as I did when I had 150 high school students. Still, I keep finding myself in situations where I want to lend out an amazing book I have read! Thanks for the comment! –Andrea

  5. I love my kindle, but nothing can surpass the connection I have with my “real” books. I see this in my classroom as well – the sheer joy with which /my kids flip pages to get to the parts they want to share, the way they can post it their aha moment in their own shorthand, that “thump” when the book comes out of the desk to lie flat and ready to disappear into. After many years of teaching, I have a large library which all my students (past and present) love rifling through, conversing over, and choosing from. That’s our reading community.

    1. Tara,

      I wonder what it is about that visceral, physical reaction we have to books. There is definitely something about the holding of the book in our hands that is an important experience. Thanks for sharing with us your reading community: your students are lucky to have you!


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