Over the last few years, there have been many valiant attempts to encourage younger generations to pick up classic books. Recently I took part in a project called Recovering the Classics. Recovering the Classics was started by the New York Public Library to get students to create new covers for books in the public domain. The response, while from a niche audience, was amazing and the art that came out of it was incredible. As a part of the project you could get a book with your cover printed and my local library ordered copies of the books that my classmates and I had drawn. Now, a bookstore in Dallas has a new idea.
The Wild Detectives bookstore has been using Medium to create clickbait articles. They shared these articles on their facebook page and since then the project has gone viral. Each article has a title that beckons you inward. Everyone is guilty on clicking to see what the stars of a show look like now or checking out the Buzzfeed article entitled “Ten Pieces of Toast That Look Like Channing Tatum”; your curiosity simply gets the best of you. Wild Detectives use this to their advantage. The first article that they posted was entitled “This Italian politician makes Trump look like a saint.” Your average concerned reader might click on the article to see what Italy has to put up with now. They would be surprised when they were redirected not to a political essay on Italy, but to the full text of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Other titles are the same. “When It’s Okay to Slut Shame Single Mothers” leads to The Scarlett Letter and “Teenage girl tricks boyfriend into killing himself” contains the entirety of Romeo and Juliet. When people figured it out, the comments were mostly positive. People felt tricked, yes, but they were also happy to find a story they might enjoy reading.
The idea that millennials have to be “tricked” into reading is the subject of some debate. recent research suggests that more books are being consumed by people under 30 than by the older generations. However, millennials seem to spend so much time on the internet that it may seem hard to sit down and pick up a book. Making books that are in the public domain accessible on the internet could be a huge help to younger people who want to consume these books from their phones.
While many older texts are available, they are not in an easily consumable format. Full texts online are cramped with annotations, strangely formatted, or in unreadable PDF documents. I’m not suggesting that every book without a copyright be copied and pasted into Medium, but it is an aesthetically pleasing… medium. The large words, wide spacing, and the simplicity of the site makes reading easy, even from a phone or tablet. Is this the way that all books will eventually go?
As someone cultivating a library that has already reached more than 600 books, I am the last one to ring the “print is dead” alarm. I think that books are a significant part of all cultures and the best way to consume information and stories. But if a facebook post proclaiming “German doctor first to perform full body transplant” will get someone to read Frankenstein, I am all for it.