Lately, there’s been much talk about sameness in the book business. Last year there was a major online campaign titled #readwomen2014 that pled for just that, that we should read more female writers. As if that were something that should require a campaign.
And a few weeks ago there was a kerfuffle about a New York Times summer reading list, seventeen titles long, that somehow managed to include nothing but white writers.
I don’t want to get into the ways and hows of such things. But what I know is we have gotten ourselves into a rut.
We read books that are just like the last book we read. We are YA readers, or history readers of poetry readers. We sign up for lists or buy things online and they tell us the new big thing in that genre we love.
But I like to meander a bit. At my house, we call it flaneuring. It means to stroll or lounge or browse.
You go into a bookstore, and the bookseller asks:
“Can I help you?”
And you’d say,
“No, thanks. I’m just browsing.”
Most of us think of browsing as something else. It’s how we access the web. And despite carrying little objects with us everywhere that access all the information in the world through browsers, we do not browse. Instead, we narrow our vision. We do it to ourselves, and we allow others to do it for us. We take in what algorithms tell us to. Spotify streams what it calculates we want to hear, and Google gives us news from the sources it thinks we want. And if we buy books from Amazon, we see the books it thinks we want based on what we bought last.
But when we go to a bookstore and truly browse, we open ourselves up, extend our range, widen our view.
We walk through the aisles and we see books that we didn’t know existed a second before, but now cannot live without. We are curious and we are strange and we are unpredictable. It is that curiosity that reminds us that we are more than all the algorithms that Amazon and Apple and Google and Spotify can ever write.
We play Dave Brubeck and then the Sex Pistols then Bon Iver. And we read a history of the Civil War while we are reading a novel about space travel, and take breaks between chapters to read poems.
When we started the Decatur Book Festival ten years ago, I envisioned it as a bunch of novelists, because I love reading novels. And then Diane Capriola said we should have Children’s authors. I didn’t think of children’s writers because I, in general, don’t read children’s books. Now the children’s stage is one of the festival’s strongest features. Then Tom Bell insisted on adding poets, and now we have a fantastic poetry program at the festival. If you come to a DBF programming meeting, there’s someone in the room advocating for just about anything you could imagine. And that’s the real heart of the festival’s programming.
So thinking of us all stuck in our ruts, it occurred to me that the AJC Decatur Book Festival is the perfect antidote to this self-imposed tunnel vision. It’s your chance to explore beyond your boundaries, to get out of your rut. At the festival, we have poets and essayists and novelists and historians and playwrights and sculptors and slam poets and scrabble champions and on and on and on.
And so, we’re launching #READdifferent. It’s a call to read beyond what you normally do. Try something new, try something you didn’t like five years ago, but might now. Knock down your own barriers. Ignore genre and gender and race and form. Try something different.
Tweet and Facebook and Instagram how you are reading different, the books you love that violate your algorithm.
Sure, come out to the festival to see your favorite authors. How could you not? But stay and explore. #READdifferent. Buy books from people you’ve never heard of. Walk into a random venue and listen. Get a different perspective.
At the festival, we’ll even have a tent where you can spin the wheel. It might come up with a recommendation for a session to go see right then, or you might win a prize. We’ll have little gifts for anyone that promises to check out the session that the wheel picks for them.
-Daren Wang, Executive Director