Friday, September 7, 2012

Eating Locally . . . Reading Locally

Over the past decade or so, a movement has arisen in this country to “eat locally”—to choose food (fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meat) grown, raised, or made within a 50-mile radius of our homes. The food is fresher, we use less energy to get it, and we support our neighbors who produce the food.
I’d like to propose a similar movement to “read locally”—to seek out novels, poetry, plays, graphic novels, memoirs, and other nonfiction written by those who live in our part of the world.

It would work like this. Readers would buy (or borrow from libraries) books by local authors, ask their stores or libraries to recommend local authors, attend readings, and notice reviews. The more you do this, the more you’ll discover the richness of the creativity around you.

Book clubs also have a role to play in the movement. When “Teller” was published, I was invited to three local book clubs, and in every case, the members told me the meetings were the best ever. We talked past the usual time limits; the members asked lots of challenging questions; and the club members and I learned something new about the book. I was surprised to discover, though, that the clubs had never previously invited local authors to their clubs. The club leaders said they assumed that authors would not be interested.

So—if you’re in a book club, try choosing locally written books. Invite authors to your book club. We authors are, mostly, house-trained and would love to participate. Your club will learn about the book from the author’s point of view, with the insights on the writer’s process, the origins of the story, and the craft of writing.

Also, in this movement, bookstores would more actively promote local authors. In Sonoma County, where I live, a local supermarket chain, called Oliver’s, promotes local growers with large banners high on the store walls, portraying the farmers, fishermen, bakers, cheese makers, and ranchers who provide the food for the store. Bookstores could do a similar thing, with banners of local novelists, poets, playwrights, and nonfiction writers.

Bookstores and libraries could also do more to encourage local authors to do public readings. When I self-published my book, I was disappointed at the stigma that my book had in the eyes of store owners and librarians, simply because it was self-published. Interestingly, this distinction did not exist in the eyes of readers and book clubs. To them, a book is a book.

I’m encouraging this movement of “loca-readers” not to promote myself; I’m the least of the writers in my own county. But since I’ve published my first novel, I’ve met many other local authors who are not always getting the attention they deserve in their own backyard.
This movement would not preclude also reading books from far-flung places in the world to expand your horizons—and which is possible today to an extent not imagined a few generations ago. But I think you’ll discover a breadth of experience close to home.

What’s in it for you as a reader? In some cases, the books will actually describe your little corner of the world in rare and intimate ways that you probably haven’t experienced before; the characters might be your neighbors. And, the act of writing will seem less remote; you’ll understand that books are not all written by New Yorkers, but may be written by someone down the street or across town.




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