Thank you, Jonathan Franzen

Last night my friend Sue and I braved the cold and went downtown to hear author Jonathan Franzen speak.  Franzen is a novelist and essayist and holds strong opinions on any number of subjects.  He’s also charming and funny and scary smart.  It was a fascinating evening, and I went home slightly giddy from the rush of intellectual stimulation.

One thing he said in particular resonated with me.  Franzen is no Luddite (he was very adamant on this point, since he’s often called one), and contends that he’s a fan of much that technology has to offer, but at the same time he’s clearly concerned about the direction the world is going, what with the constant magnetic pull of smart phones and chatter of social media, including Twitter.  I couldn’t agree more, especially on this last point — I tried Twitter a while back for 48 hours and had to unplug it as it made my head spin.  He’s not fond of e-books, either, and spoke eloquently about “the quiet permanence of the written word.”

I love that.

“The quiet permanence of the written word.”

Personally, I don’t mind e-books.  My own e-book sales are brisk, thank you very much dear readers, and I would break down and cry if someone tried to take away the e-reader my sister gave me.  It’s an absolute life-saver when I travel — I’ll never run out of reading material on a cross-country flight again. Still, to my mind, reading an e-book simply can’t hold a candle to the particular joys of reading a physical book.  There’s the whole bookness of a physical book, for starters, its familiar form and feel, its intoxicating smell, its satisfying heft.  Having published fourteen of my own at this point, I also know exactly how much thought and care goes into every physical book on the shelf, from the dedicated editors who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the writer to the gifted artists and designers who dream up the cover, select the font, and lay out the pages.  And in the case of children’s picture books, there’s another layer involved as well: the illustrator, whose artwork lights up the words.  A physical book is a labor of love and a work of art, truly.

And then there’s the actual experience of reading.  I don’t find I’m able to dive into a story on an e-reader in quite the same way I do with a book.  Eventually the story sucks me in and I’m not as conscious of the fact that I’m clicking a button or touching a screen to “turn the page,” but there’s still something vaguely disorienting about the whole thing.  I don’t like not being able to see both pages at once (and no, using an app on my laptop screen doesn’t do it for me either in this regard), and I don’t like not being able to flip ahead or back or know at a glance how much further I have to go to the finish line.  Plus, once I do get to the finish line, if the book is one I absolutely loved, I can’t pass the e-book version along to family or friends.

(Apparently I’m not alone in my preference, as a recent essay by Nicholas Carr in the Wall Street Journal points out.)

So all things being equal, I’ll take “the quiet permanence of the written word” that waits for me between the covers of a book any day of the week.  And thank you, Jonathan Franzen, for that beautiful phrase.


Starting the new year right

Way back in October, I asked for pictures of your favorite reading spots.  (Click here to read the blog post.)  And then I got busy and FORGOT ALL ABOUT IT!  Gak!  Where are my marbles?

New Year’s weekend seems like a good time to revisit this subject.  Here’s my favorite spot to read:


It’s the armchair in the corner of my office.  I’ve written every single one of my books in this chair, and I’m sitting in it right now as I write this blog post.

Now here’s a photo from one of you:

May-October 2012 456

Looking good, Alexandra!  And hey, I approve of your reading material.  ❤

Anybody else have a photo of a favorite reading spot to share with the rest of us?  Be sure and ask your parents for permission first.  I’ll only post your first name, or you can be anonymous if you prefer.  Leave a comment below if you want me to jump in, and I’ll get in touch via email to retrieve the photo from you.

I’ll leave you with one more picture.  This hilarious mug arrived in the mail today — a Christmas present from my sister!  She knows me only too well…








Nurturing a love of reading

Darsa Morrow, fellow Betsy-Tacy fan and fellow mother of boys, has a thoughtful and impassioned blog post today on the vital spark that reading aloud ignites in our children, ensuring a life-long love of reading.  (Click here to read it.)

Good stuff, Darsa.  Certainly proved true in our house — and I have the picture to prove it!

My husband reading to our younger son -- check out that '80s hair!

Reading on the Rise

Is it as cold in your neck of the woods as it is in mine? I have no business complaining – the Pacific Northwest, where temperatures are hovering around freezing, is positively balmy compared to other parts of the country right now. A friend I talked to in Ohio on Friday afternoon reported that it was nine degrees outside, while a colleague in Minnesota topped that at 21 below. And the girls in a Chicago-area mother-daughter book club that I visited with via Skype over the weekend had been home from school for several days because classes were cancelled due to the extreme cold.

Here’s some news to warm the hearts of readers and writers everywhere, though. Earlier this week, The Christian Science Monitor reported that a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts shows reading among American adults is on the rise for the first time in 25 years.


Reversing decades of decline, the number of literary readers – those who read novels, short stories, plays, or poetry – has grown significantly, and across the board amongst all ethnic groups. According to the NEA, “reading is an important indicator of positive individual and social behavior patterns,” including everything from volunteerism to attendance at arts and sports events, and even participation in outdoor activities and exercise.

For the first time in the survey’s history, literary reading has increased amongst both men and women. And what’s even better, in my opinion, is that the largest jump is amongst young adults (18-24), which certainly bodes well for the future of the publishing industry.


So take that, cultural pessimists! Take that, everyone who’s been predicting the demise of books, and reading, and literature! If this isn’t news to ring in the new year and “drive the cold winter away,” as one of my favorite traditional carols puts it, I don’t know what is.