The “paradigm shift” of the last decade doesn’t seem to have impressed many of my friends, particularly the ones who are most like me (retired, female, lifelong readers, “educated”) except here and there. Not that the men are so au courant either, but they will link computers to books. Many women define computers as “male” (“Oh, I never go on it because it belongs to my husband. Sometimes he runs something off for me.”), consider themselves endangered by “exposing” themselves online (unless they’re academics or writers who MUST) as though it meant physically opening the door to a stranger, or think of it as “play” — maybe because many men and kids use their computers for gaming. Often they do NOT read blogs. WILL not. It seems to mean something like “showing off.”
There’s something deeper. The paradigm shift is not about going from paper books to digital text on a gadget. The real change is from a world where one got ahead by climbing hierarchical ladders in institutions (business, teaching, professions) — depending upon unions or civil service, who had stable and dependable positions, qualified experts — to a hunter-gatherer world — chancy and motley dependence on patrons, mentors, cohorts, buddies, contacts and explorations to make one’s own best guesses about what might work.
In Fort Benton last fall I went around to their several museums, one bookstore, and one saddlery/antique store (I guess that’s the best way to describe it).
This is a town with major Bob Scriver bronzes that considers itself right on the cutting edge of Montana history — indeed, I should say “banks,” since Fort Benton was where the steam paddlewheelers docked, as far north as they could go. There was not one copy of “Bronze Inside and Out” available. In fact, they didn’t know it existed. They do now, but what one man said has stuck with me: “No one came and asked us to buy it.” It’s an old-fashioned drummer model where a salesman came through to solicit business and gave a pitch about each product. Very nice for the ego as one stood behind the cash register with arms folded, listening, being courted. Regional book “drummers” are gone along with the old-fashioned mercantile salesman.
I put that together with a remark from a Heart Butte man who stopped by to chat one day when I was working in the yard. “A man came to teach us Blackfeet history and he said he WAS Blackfeet, but we didn’t know him, so we didn’t pay any attention to him.”
People in Heart Butte, on the rez, still judge by affiliation and personal relationship. Paper certification, book learning, mean nothing to them. They are the real thing, they reason, so of course they know better just by existing. Why read? It’s a form of xenophobia, fear of outsiders. It’s not just a characteristic of rez towns. The most offensive thing that people do when they move to Valier is to tell locals anything. People in a small town want to be experts on their own small town. The fact that they put no effort into LEARNING their own small town is irrelevant. It’s an ego thing.
I find that older women are a little that way themselves. “Do I HAVE to do that old hunter-gatherer thing again? Didn’t I do enough of it when I was young?” They learned a long time ago not to tell people things about themselves they didn’t want to know, esp. family members. But let an outsider interfere by diagnosis and zingo-bango, get the baseball bat out from behind the door! So WHY do they fall for the commodification of “lady fairs” and advertising that tells them what they want?
Too big a subject for a blog post. Let me back off to just books. Let me ignore reading devices and cyber-books. Why aren’t women better hunter-gatherers about paper books? What kind of books are they looking for anyway?
Why do they all sign up for book clubs, saying they want good ideas, and then never read the books?
Or if they read them, refuse to share what they really think about them — the really gut-level reactions?
Why is it that when I ask many women about the best books they ever read, they go back to something from their twenties? The original question that kicked off this whole line of thinking was my mother who in her late eighties wanted books that would grip her by the ears and submerge her in another world. I had no successful suggestions and neither did the county librarian.
Of course, I find it far more “submerging” to write than to read. I really like that word, ”submerge,” which I think captures the “flow” phenomenon of reading at one’s real capacity for absorption. I don’t read for flow anymore. I sit there with my marker and notebook looking for concepts and making outlines. This is why I’m so pleased to have a co-writer rather than a co-reader. I HATE people saying, “Oh, you’ve got to read this or that.” I generally make sure never to touch the damned book.
I said CO-writer, not parasitical writer. I gradually realized that some of the male writers who emailed me in such a friendly manner were really trying to make shortcut research about Blackfeet or Western life. They were hunter-gatherers, just lazy. And I hate writers’ feedback groups as much as book clubs. Maybe it’s my loss.
So if an older woman were looking for “a few good books” to read, how would she go about it? The options are narrowing since the reviews in print are disappearing (newspapers eliminating the sections, appropriate reviewers leaving — we olders don’t want PR or kids being snarky) and the bookstores are closing except in major cities — even the big chains and heritage stand-alones. The library is replacing shelves with computers. The newer books tend to be ebooks, which is great for people who travel and can’t pack a lot of weight around.
Here’s a neglected option made POSSIBLE by the Internet: “sadder but wiser” books, that is, the used book market which is no longer a one-inch, one-column ad in the back of the Saturday Review. Every used book aggregator has a search slot that will sort by subject, by author, by title. They’re cheaper than newspapers: 75 cents for the daily Great Falls Tribune. One penny for many worthy books. (Shipping is where the cost is.)
A pro-active searcher can come up with real wealth.
In fact, the search can become as “submersive” as the actual reading. The post office or UPS will bring you the books if you’re that agoraphobic.