Robert's Reflections

Barbara's picture

Everyone has a mentor -- whether it is a family member, teacher, boss, fellow colleague. Robert Segedy, veteran bookseller, was/is mine. His knowledge and experience of the book world has assisting me though my bookseller days and beyond. His dry,and sometimes acerbic, humor saved me through many situations! Every so often, Robert will be adding his thoughts and ideas to this book blog. Thanks so much, Robert!

When I first started bookselling, there was no such thing as computer databases or the Internet; everything was done by hand or memory. When a book was sold, the title was written down. For reorders, an index card marked the spot on the shelf, and was retrieved later, so another copy could be ordered. If someone asked if the store had a book in stock, it was up to the bookseller that managed that section to actually know whether or not the store carried it. Instead of Google, we used the massive and immediately out of date Books in Print; forthcoming titles were researched on microfiche (I know, what was that?). Yes, it all sounds so terribly antiquated and old-fashioned, but it was bookselling, by god.

Today, anyone with a computer has access to an untold wealth of information; authors have Facebook pages, publishers have websites, and millions of people are making their opinions known -- from the mundane to the cerebral.

A quick search of the words "book clubs" bring forth a tidal wave of options -- from Oprah's sacred selections to the humble individual blogster -- one can work this particular vein like a prospector on the trail for gold.

So what does it all mean? Is reading making a much discussed return to the forefronts of coolness? Have reading clubs merely replaced previous generation's bridge clubs and sewing circles? Do you really believe that people are starved for the opportunity to gather and discuss ideas, to engage in enlightened conversation? Are we really that hungry for culture? Are we famished for the nourishment that can only come from a great book?

I believe that we are. I think that we are tired of being bludgeoned with reality television and smug attitudes, bored to death of shallow characters reciting tired lines that pass for comedy or drama or entertainment.

Yes, only a book can engage the brain, warm the heart, touch the soul.  When a reader picks up a book and begins that special process, when the words flow off the page and we are swept along in the journey, we are partaking in a wondrous experiment. Books can become very special friends -- they can remind us of certain times in our lives, they can entertain, educate, enthrall us.  It is often said that reading is a solitary habit, and it usually is. We do need to bring a certain amount of commitment with us, an ability to sit still and focus, a willingness to surrender to the text.

But in a book club, we have an unique opportunity. We can be among other readers, we can speak of what books have touched our lives, we can feel a certain feeling of pride in being a booklover.

Books can be so much more than a mere distraction, a temporary entertainment. Books can unite us with their words, they can educate us, and most importantly, books can make us feel whole again.

In these times of media overload, of limited attention spans, of
the idiocy of multi-tasking, we all need some quiet time with a good book and a chance to dicuss ideas and issues important to us. That is what book clubs and reading groups are all about!

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