I've been thinking and writing about social reading for a long time now and have been advocating for an element of social that is local, even hyper local. My post about social voting vs. social reading was a first grasping effort to quantify what social reading was to me. My first app attempt centered around check-ins. Instead of checking in on Foursquare and knowing what dish the other checked-in folks in the coffee shop recommend, I wanted to build something that would tell me what everyone in the coffee shop was currently reading. Imagine the conversations that could take place offline, in our own community, around books! Nearly two years later, my perspective has shifted.
While I'd still very much like to create this app (and many new apps have sprung up since my wild vision years ago that could almost get at it with a bit of kluge-y usage), I've since realized it would only offer the initial touch point for conversation. It would connect you with others that either loved or loathed the book you were reading, but it couldn't connect you more deeply with the story itself. I believe this - the desire to connect more deeply with the story - is the underlying premise of nearly all social reading endeavors, whether they are ultimately successful or not. And many are unsuccessful because their focus is on the reading of a story, instead of the story itself.
Since I started banging on about social reading long ago, there have been so many definitions and spirited discussions about what "social reading" means, what it is, what it isn't, what tools reflect this, how readers really read, how they really want to interact with authors (if ever) and will they ever use these social tools that have risen up to fill the "social reading" void. Some excellent tools have been developed that allow readers to share and discuss text in a multitude of new ways. Are these tools the final definition of social reading? For some, probably. For me, they are one way "in" to a book but are certainly not the only way. I continue to be primarily interested in "social reading" as something that's not just about technology, but how tech tools can help us shed our online-only lives and connect offline with a novel, a character, a setting, a community or other readers who share a love of the same. This view is part of a larger philosophy I have about stepping away from computers and taking part in the world that lives just beyond your front door...something I fully accept not everyone subscribes to with as much fervor as I do.
I'm not alone in this line of thinking. Small Demons is centered around all the elements within a novel - including place - that you connect to as a reader. Their site allows you to delve deeper into the "storyverse" of a novel you loved (or loathed.) This gets at something much deeper than sharing a quote on Twitter or Tumbling your favorite passages while you're mid-read or hosting a roundtable discussion of a specific novel on your blog or even attending your local book club. This is story as social, not reading as social.
This idea of story as social is what I'm most interested in exploring further. It is what led me to the #LANovels Project. Through social channels (natch) I've gathered up a list of your favorite LA novels. Most of which I've never read (terrible LA resident that I am) but have meant to read for a long time. Here's my plan: pick a novel, read the novel, explore the local landscape of the novel and document that exploration using a variety of tools that may (or may not, this is purely an experiment) help illuminate the story for you. Don't live in LA but loved Fante's Ask the Dust? What if I read it and left audio-notes on Broadcastr at each location in the novel? Never been to Echo Park but it features heavily in your favorite LA novel? How can tech allow me to connect you with the area in a way you can't without being there? How can tech allow you to connect me with a novel setting in Baltimore that I've never seen?
Surely you can argue that any novelist worth their salt would do a landscape or city or setting justice...no additional after-the-fact tech/social enhancements required. I don't disagree. But I'm interested in exploring this notion of place as character which also happens to be the place in which I live. It's already happening around me with every film filmed on my street. With every car commercial filmed outside my window. (It would shock you to learn how many national car commercials are filmed in the same one-block stretch of downtown LA, my 4th-Street-Bridge-view somehow deemed a perfect stand-in for "any city USA.") What you see when you watch a new car commercial is not what I saw when it was filmed. My additional perspective adds to the story in some way. I know what this bridge looks like when no one is filming. I remember the car crash there last year. The choir that sang on it last month. The way it looks just like Paris at night if you have a drink or two and squint just so. Might the same be true for novels? If so, THAT's the social component I'm most interested in. Story. Stories set in your local community...a community of other interested readers and those who cannot physically be here.
This is all a wild experiment that could reveal much or reveal little. I'll be announcing the initial list of novels and the first pick next week. I hope you'll come along for the ride.