What’s everyone reading?

In a recent blog post by author Seth Godin, he talks about what everyone reads. There was a time, he says, when everyone read the same newspaper or watched the same shows. Maybe there was a time when there was greater homogeny. There are so many more media streams, a variety of formatting options, different technology to deliver news, entertainment, knowledge, and opinions these days. Godin alludes to an idea that people have stopped reading the difficult books because, why bother, if everyone isn’t reading them? Why challenge yourself when there’s so much more at your fingertips? But, what of a society with a “cultural, intellectual core”? Have we lost it? Or, did we ever really have it to begin with?

At the Princeton Public Library, we know that this town certainly possesses a cultural, intellectual core. At the same time, do we read the difficult books? The answer depends on how you’d define a difficult book. If you think Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” is difficult because of its length, well I can attest to the fact that the 18 hardcover copies the library has have been continuously checked out for months. “Capital in the Twenty First Century”, the tome by Thomas Piketty is another one that can boast a good deal of circulation. If your definition of “difficult” is content-driven, the 2012 National Book Award-winning “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” by Katherine Boo, a devastating look at life in a Mumbai slum was (and continues to be) a frequent topic of discussion for area book groups as well as customers who frequent the library. “Everyone” may not be reading the same book, but we are reading the difficult ones. We see it every day. We talk about them with each other. We suggest some of those difficult books, and some are suggested to us.

Obviously there is a wide spectrum to what people will define as a “difficult” book. Below are some suggestions of non-fiction books covering heavy subjects that I’d like to think of as evocative, thought-provoking, and books that you might want to talk about with others.

“Enough” by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a horrific shooting, pens an impassioned plea for responsible gun ownership.

“The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League” by Jeff Hobbs
Robert Peace’s life was supposed to change course dramatically when he left Newark for Yale. Straddling two completely different worlds, Peace succumbs to the danger of the streets, leaving a dream unfilled, and the quest for a decent life, lost. Written by his former Yale roommate, the holds have already begun for this title.

“Redeployment” by Phil Klay
What is it like to return from active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan and have to reasimiliate to suburban life? Author and U.S. Marine Corps vet Phil Klay paints a disturbing and necessary portrait of the lives of too many American soldiers who struggle to make sense of their lives in this series of short stories, nominated for the National Book Award.

“Men We Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward
Author Jesmyn Ward paints a devastating picture in this gripping memoir as she writes about the loss of five young men, who were part of her life, growing up in a poor rural Mississippi town, to drugs, accidents, murder, and suicide, within a period of four years.

Image of “The New Reading Room”, inside the under construction reading room in the new Wiener Library @ Russell Square in Camden Town, London, UK courtesy of flickr user Peter Alfred Hess, Creative Commons license.

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