Good-bye, and Hello
June 7, 2008
Two days ago, on Friday, June 5, at 9:10 p.m. Karen Templer shut down the site known as Readerville. Though there were several parts, it is the forum that was the heart and soul of the site. Readers and writers gathered to partake of what sometimes seemed to be hundreds of discussions with people who were brought together by their love of books. No matter what you read you could find people here who read it too. And liked talking about it.
I can’t remember now how I first found Readerville. But it was probably in about 2002. It was a members-only site, meaning I had to register to even read the posts. I did, and once I did I was amazed at the huge variety of enthusiastic discussions and the intelligent comments. I promptly bookmarked about 70 of the discussions including those on new books, what everyone was currently reading, publishing news, book covers, cooking, libraries, bookselling, writing, authors, and many more.
It was one of my first experiences with online forums. I had been mostly lurking at two others. One proved so terrifying—a member who resented his unpublished status so much he began terrorizing others online by publishing their private information—that I quit after only three posts. But these were for writers. Readerville was for, well, readers. Books. Lovers of books. And I fell in love with it.
Like all loves, it came with baggage and problems. Cliques formed. Personal attacks occurred, some but not all of which were addressed by the proprietor. Fights broke out not just over politics and religion but also over personality clashes. There were times I avoided the place, and I once stopped going for several months.
But I always went back. It was unique, a kind of “Cheers” where everyone knew your name, but the draw was books, not beer. When a discussion came around to bookshelves many of the members posted pictures of their bookcases or in one memorable home, a pile in a pyramid shape but wedged into a corner of the living room and going up about six or eight feet. Another member showed off her built-in, custom-made (by her husband) bookshelves that left everyone, including yours truly, drooling in envy.
Then in early April 2008, it was announced that as of tax day, Readerville would close. All that would be left would be a kind of blog where people could post comments. But it wasn’t what members wanted. They wanted the forum. Numerous suggestions were offered, ideas discussed, options considered. There were two serious offers of help, yet for her own reasons Karen Templer refused all of them. Mysteriously, the forum was open on April 16. It was still going on April 30. And beyond. It didn’t shut down.
But irreparable damage had been done. The arguments that her announcement had engendered left bad feelings all around. Many members left. And most didn’t come back or at best checked in sporadically.
One year and nearly two months later, it has happened. This time without discussion. But far fewer people are affected. The membership never recovered. Other book discussion forums were already available—LibraryThing, Book & Reader, Book & Reading Forums, Book Crossing, Dirda's Reading Room—and others started up as a result of Readerville’s announced demise including my preferred one, and the one I recommend to others, Book Balloon. It has that same book lover feel to it, the same enthusiastic discussions. And it has what Readerville never did: a strong sense of fairness in the way it works with its members. No community is ever free of problems, and this one is no exception. But it is the best I have ever seen.
Dirda's Reading Room has my highest recommendation, especially if you are seeking a discussion forum that emphasizes quality over quantity. Hosted by former Washington Post critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Dirda, this discussion forum is particularly reflective of Dirda's gracious and elegant style as well as his wide literary interests. It has fewer discussions than most forums, but there are still quite a few and each one begins with Dirda's reflection upon a subject and his experience with it.
For those looking for “amazing,” it would have to be LibraryThing, which is, however surprising, all things to all people. It can do things for you that are hard to imagine. One of the most amusing (to me) is its ability to play upon that “if you like this book, you’ll also like these” thing by showing you, using your library listings there, what books you won’t like based on what you do like.
I am glad these other forums are around. If Readerville taught me anything it was that I enjoyed meeting many other readers and book lovers online and hearing what they had to say. I am not a joiner—I have never belonged to a book club—but belonging to book forums has enlarged not just my Wish List, though it certainly has done that, but my perspective and my reading too. Readerville did a good thing for me and for many. But unlike its fanatical fans I don’t miss it and I don’t mourn it. The original opportunity to save it failed, and at least for me, it died one year and two months ago.
Good-bye, Readerville. Hello, all its wonderful replacements!
Note: BiblioBuffet welcomes new columnist Lindsay Champion. She will be writing about and reviewing primarily memoirs and their cousins. Please join us in welcoming Lindsay and her column, Memoirama.
Upcoming Book Festivals:
Two festivals, one in Alaska and one in Louisiana, mark this upcoming week. Beginning on June 11 and running for two days is the Alaska Book Festival, which takes place in Fairbanks. It celebrates “those who write about the great land,” a phrase that lets its attendees know that the emphasis is local. But it’s certainly not limited as authors representing poetry, natural history, science fiction, history, mystery, photography, cooking and children’s literature show up to share their work.
Thursday night kicks off the start with a lecture from an author of a memoir about the state and its people, and continues on Saturday and Sunday with a wide variety of workshops and presentations. Among them are bookmarking, storytelling for children, screenwriting, self-publishing, a history walk and discussions, author readings and signings, a concert, panel discussions, and more.
On June 12 and 13, Louisiana will be holding its annual Author! Author! festival in Shreveport. This “celebration of the written word” opens with the “Author Author Prologue” where attendees can meet the authors, and enjoy music and food at this speciall pre-event on Friday evening. The actual festival begins Saturday morning at 9:00 when the doors to the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium open, and stays open until 7:00 p.m. If you think ahead and get them prior to event day, tickets are free, but if you are a latecomer, you’ll pay $2 at the door—still a fantastic bargain.
Scheduled events include authors in genres that include children’s, cooking, religion, thrillers, romance, nonfiction, mysteries, and general fiction. They also have a children’s area with activities geared especially to the young.
The Pub House:
Charles Fields Publishing specializes in fine art photography and art books. And they are spectacular. One of those is the fantastic Himalayan Portfolios, a collection of black and white images by Kenneth Hanson. I am particularly drawn to classic B&W fine art photography, and places of high adventure, and this book combines both in a spectacular visual feast. Along those same lines is Bolivia by Don McLaughlin. Again, black and white images. But these were taken by the photographer when he was working as a geologist for Standard Oil in the mid- to late-fifties. It is a superb look at the people, their culture, and their environment. Both books are beautifully produced, their paper rich, the reproductions perfect. Such attention to detail bodes good for their other books including several fine art books and regional photography books. They also offer two calendars that focus on the Cape Cod and Provincetown areas.
Many of us booklovers are sensualists. In addition to the words, we love the look, feel and smell of our hardcover books, especially if they are old. It is not uncommon when in a used bookstore to see browsers occasionally pick a book off a shelf, open it and put their noses close to the gutter. Not to see better, of course, but to inhale that lovely scent that books exude.
For those with Kindles or other e-readers (they have a large list of “compatible” e-readers) there is a “solution.” Whether or not there is a problem is up to each person, but if you have an e-reader and you miss that scent you can now buy something to create it. Smell of Books offers five different scents:
Like it or not, this is a remarkable idea and one that will make you laugh.
- New Book Smell (“bring back those long lost memories of your favorite local bookstore”),
- Classic Musty Smell (“like having the collected works of Shakespeare in a can”)
- Scent of Sensibility (“It’s like living in a Jane Austen novel!”)
- Eau You Have Cats (“Specially engineered from the concentrated aromas of 20,000 second-hand books.”)
- Crunch Bacon Scent (“a low calorie, low cholesterol alternative for your breakfast reading enjoyment . . . not for vegans”)
This Week . . .
I won! After entering the Great American Book Giveaway every week for months I finally won a book! The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre by Dominic Smith is a novel based on one of photography’s founding fathers and set against the social and political upheavals of nineteenth-century Paris.
The Great American Book Giveaway is part of BookTrib, an online site that brings together a wide variety of sources—news, blogs, sites, and information about books, writers, and readers. It calls itself the “one place to stay up-to-date about the world of books and everything related to them. . . . [a] book-o-sphere.” I don’t know if it’s that, but it is an excellent site full of interesting information. And there’s always the possibility of winning a free book.
Until next week, read well, read often and read on!