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Sunday Survey: How Trendy Is Your Reading?

Intro: What is the ‘Sunday Survey’?

I’ve explained all about Sunday Survey in my first ever Sunday Survey report. Click here to read the complete explanation. Basically it’s a book discussion I conduct on my Twitter account, @GeekInc18, that starts off with a basic book-related (or not so related) question such as “What’s your favorite book?” or “What do you think of book translations?” The result of our discussion goes up here to Bookerie.

SUNDAY SURVEY. 8 APRIL 2012: How Trendy Is Your Reading?

DEFINITION OF ‘TRENDY’: “in accord with the latest fad or fashion” (The Free Dictionary)

When I think about the word ‘trend’ or ‘trendy’, my mind always refers me to people who flock in Louis Vuitton stores to get the latest model handbags that this designer boutique has to offer. I also picture people rushing to Apple stores or authorized Apple resellers to get the latest iPad or iPhone or whatever else it is that the company is launching. It also reminds me of people trying desperately to get seats in the newest restaurants and bars (in the mall I used to work in, there’s a trinity of trendy restaurants that people go to: Union, De Luca, Monolog).

As with the aforementioned areas – fashion, gadget, F&B – books also follow the trend. The word ‘trendy’ applies very much in this world, be it on the publishing side and on the retail side. Each year, there tends to be a book or two that everyone’s looking for, that they must read, that they simply have to won because it is the ‘in’ thing to do. It’s the book on everyone’s mouth, the one your friends are telling you to read, the one that people joke about/rant about on the Internet.

Back in 2005, around the time I’d completed my first year working in the bookstore (as a customer service staff), it was as if everyone and their cousin and their cousin’s pet chihuahua were all reading the same thing: Dan Brown. There wasn’t a day that didn’t go by without someone asking for The Da Vinci Code and/or Angels and Demons. A local publisher did a rush job of publishing a translation of the book in my native tongue and the result was so bad that the grammar and spelling nitpicker in me wanted to lash out. But, hey, they sold out anyway because everybody wanted to read it.

Three years later, in 2008, the young, the female and even some of the more open-minded adult males, gravitated towards the biggest series of the year: Twilight. The majority of the hype is obviously because of the movie so understandably people were curious about it. What surprised me was that some of the people who claimed to be fans at that time hadn’t even read the whole series but because they wanted to have a major Twilighter status (or become Twi-hards), they bought the other three that came after Twilight. Apparently in 2008 this was The Thing everyone does.

If Twilight got its buzz from films, what about books that don’t have a movie adaptation helping its hype? No problem. Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (English edition) became ‘trendy’ all on its own simply because it was written by Haruki Murakami. The author received some positive publicity prior to the publication of the English translation of the book, including an article on the New York Times, and great reviews and endorsements from famous critics and fellow authors that it became The It Book of 2011. We can argue that Murakami’s status as a famous literary author should not be categorized as ‘trend’ but how else could we describe it when some (former) customers of mine came to the store, claiming that they’ve never read Murakami before, and would now like to try and read 1Q84? One person even went so far to say, “I heard there’s this good book called 1Q84 by a Japanese author. I would like to buy that because my friend said it was featured on the NYT.”

Let’s compare the situation with George R. R. Martin, who also had a book released earlier in the year, which was the fifth installment in his A Song Of Ice And Fire series. A Dance With Dragons came out in paperback, was not available on international or open market paperback editions, and still sold out at a rapid rate. I’m guessing that the reason for that is the fanbase. The first four books in the series also sold out like hot nuts in a street vendor but that’s because the TV series, Game Of Thrones, was playing on HBO. But ADWD got sold based on the fanbase. There are legions of Martin fans who have been waiting literally forever for this book and they bought it as soon as it came out. Possibly the sale of the previous four helped accelerate the promotion of this books, but no one came to me saying, “I have to read it because it’s what the New York Times says that is good.”

Even more so than ADWD, however, the fiction bestseller in my former bookstore was surprisingly an old title. It’s Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower that is currently being adapted into a movie by the author himself. A friend of mine quipped, “The number of hipsters in Jakarta has increased and they now want to read Perks.” And it is, in a way, quite a hipster book. But it also could be that there are just too many Logan Lerman fans in this city. Either way, it’s the trendiest book we sold last year.

And early this year, there is no doubt as to what the trendiest book of this year is. Here’s a tweet from my friend @katalyona:

@katalyona my friends went to kinokuniya ps yesterday and hunger games adult cover was sold out! that must be #trendbooks

@katalyona then my friends asked her sister to buy hunger games in kinokuniya spore and it was sold out too!!!

That’s right. You know a book is trendy when a bookstore runs out of it despite having stocked dozens, or even hundreds, of copies.

The hype for The Hunger Games has been building up since two years ago. In addition to being a very good book indeed, because unlike most YA fiction authors Suzanne Collins is a very competent writer, the buzz of the first movie that just came out in cinemas last month was very strong. So naturally, bookstores are selling this title while sitting on their hands, covering their eyes with sunglasses and lying on the beach. In other words, it’s an easy sell. As was the case with Twilight, these days people race to get their hands on The Hunger Games and its sequels because if there’s a movie, and everyone else is talking about it, then yes, most of us would surely like to know what’s going on.

Now that we know the situation, let us consider the next questions:

  • Is it a MUST to read what everyone else is reading?
  • How often do you read books that other people have read before?
  • Do you pick books by following what other people are reading/have read?
  • How much are you influenced by the media, the critics and the popularity of a book in determining what you should read next?

Everyone has their own opinion (as later my friends’ tweets will show you), but here is my two cents, or rather my own experience and situation, on the matter:

1. First of all, this all depends on what your reading principle is. Mine is: read whatever you want, whenever you want.

I never feel obliged to follow the trend because I’ve always liked to be a little bit different from everyone else – that’s how I am built. But I also never felt the need to find the most obscure title I could find on the shelf just to prove that I’m always bucking the trend. Why should I, anyway? Sure, I love reading obscure titles, but if I can’t discuss it with anybody, it’s no fun either.

I avoided The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson when the English translation first came out and everybody else was raving about it. I didn’t want my opinion on the books marred by their opinions so holding out until the hype died down seemed like the better thing to do. But of course it was very hard to hold out for very long because the English remake of the movie was being made, it’s going to be back on everyone’s mouth and the hype will rise again and bla bla bla… so I eventually just picked up the books and read them and boy, do I love them.

I didn’t even care that everyone was raving about it. I would always have my own opinion based on my personal experiences (which is having gone to Sweden, experienced two weeks in Stockholm, living with native citizens, and having strong familial ties in the country as well) that have nothing to do with other people’s views on the books. The movies, be it the Swedish ones or the American one, didn’t even factor in. For me, they’re entirely separate entities from the book. Whatever buzz they generated, they would never have anything to do in my personal enjoyment with the book. So, was I following the trend? I don’t think so. It just so happened that the books were trendy and I happened to be interested in them at the same time.

2. Secondly, what you read is sometimes influenced by external factors. In my case, it’s my job.

Right now, working as a journalist, I have to write movie and book reviews on a monthly basis. Last month I reviewed The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. The month before, The Heroes Of Olympus. The previous month The Power Of Six. All very popular books, they are what the cool kids are reading right now, for various reasons. I enjoyed all of these books and I actually quite worship one of them. Does this mean I’m trendy? I guess, yes, in a way, I am. I read what everyone else is reading and I am not ashamed.

In my previous job as a book buyer, reading the trend is an absolute must. It is virtually impossible for one to work as a merchandiser and not know what in the world was being published even if you don’t like them. I never used to be a big fan of comic books but then Superman: Earth One came out and I heard everyone was talking about it. I got curious; the curiosity then got the better of me so I read the comic book. I wrote a four-starred review.

And then came Blackest Night. Before this series I was, like, “Sorry? What’s a green lantern? Is that a lantern with green light?” Upon its release, I was flooded with emails that my boss forwarded to me, emphasizing why the series was important. Then I went to fan forums and all the comic book geeks were raving. I thought, “Oh, I want to rave about it, too! Let’s see what the fuss is all about.” I picked one up and afterwards, I went, “OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME YOU DON’T KNOW HOW COOL GREEN LANTERN IS?! FORGET THAT SUCKY RYAN REYNOLDS MOVIE! READ THE COMIC BOOKS BY GEOFF JOHNS IT’S SO AWESOME YOU HAVE TO READ IT!” (Yes, I really did go capslock-y on Blackest Night. It’s all kinds of embarrassing now that I think about it but, seriously, the series is cool. Geoff Johns for DC President, really.)

If I weren’t doing what I’m doing for a living, I never would have known about them – any of them – at all. I don’t hate being ‘forced’ to read them by my jobs and I don’t regret reading these trendy titles that everyone else is reading. Some books I discovered on my own can be utter crap. So if I find a gem in the ‘current fashion’, why not?

So even though I’m pretty resistant about trends, I still follow it. We live in an era where information is free. Whether you want to or not, you’ll still be seeing what everyone else is crazy about. Sometimes joining in can be fun, even if you’re being held at gunpoint by your paycheck.

3. Ultimately, it’s your own personal reading taste that will determine what your read, trend or not.

If you know me, then you’ll know that I:

– Love fantasy novels (especially ones with magic and wizards), classic literature, LGBT fiction and historical anything.
– Already have a list of Must-Read Authors. They are, among others, Ben Aaronovitch, JK Rowling, Matthew Pearl, Rick Riordan, Charlie Cochrane, Bart Yates, Lauren Willig, Michael Scott and Jacquie D’Alessandro.
– Never read anything just because it’s on the New York Times bestsellers list or just because it’s being written about in the New York Times. (I trust Guardian Books more anyway.)
– Find reviews subjective, no matter how object the reviewers try to make it.
– Love movies.

Based on the above, can you guess what my library looks like?

I’m guessing no.

Why? Because I really am a random reader. Like I said, based on points 1 and 2, I would read anything that interests me, either because I want to or because I have to. I don’t care about trend, but sometimes I can’t resist it. So basically I read anything and everything and I don’t care what anyone thinks about what I read. Ultimately it’s my brain, my eyes and my hands that I use when I read – nobody else’s but mine.

I spent half of the year last year reading heavily promoted/hyped up books like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes (Man Booker Prize winner of 2011), Inheritance by Christopher Paolini,  A Game Of Thrones and Stephen King’s 11/22/63. If you look at my nightstand, you’ll probably think, “Oh, this girl keeps up with the latest trend in reading. Her reading is very trendy.” But then I’ve also probably read some books you’ve probably never even heard of. All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane and Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels.

All of these books suit my interest and that’s why I picked them. Being different is awesome. Not following the trend is your choice. But if you come across a good one, why not bite it? There’s nothing to lose.

4. Fad comes and goes, what’s trendy today may not be so tomorrow. It’s what stays with you for a long time that counts.

For the whole night, I’ve been trying to determine whether classic books can be classified as ‘trendy’ or not. If someone says “To Kill A Mockingbird is a must-read! If you haven’t read it, don’t call yourself a book lover!” I would probably hit that person. Because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s pretentious windbags and utter snobs who think that we need to read a certain book to be cool.

But the fact remains that some classic books are so popular that they will always be forever ‘in trend’, so to speak. It never goes out of fashion to read Jane Austen or Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s never not fashionable to read Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens.

Why are they called classics? Obviously because these books have been around for a long time. But also because there are people who love them and are still reading them until now. Such is the power of these books written by the great minds of old. And you have to wonder, what books will be classics in the future, when we’re all gone and the world is left to the next generation of readers?

That’s a question for philosophers, perhaps. Or scientists. I don’t know. But what I do know is this: my favorite books have always been the ones that I can read over and over without getting bored or losing the magic, even ten years after I first discovered it. Angels And Demons might be a trendy book in 2005 and I read it because I wanted to know what my customers were talking about, but I still read it now whenever I need quick and easy entertainment. I started reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy because the movie is coming out next year but I have a John le Carré Reading Project this year and I will not rest until I read all of his books. I could give you other examples but that would take the whole night to write about.

THE POINT IS. It doesn’t matter if what we’re reading is “the current fad”. Either it will go one to become a classic, like Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings, or be forgotten about as soon as the next big thing comes out (Twilight vs The Hunger Games). But if this trendy thing stays in your bookshelf forever because you love it, then it’s not a trend anymore. It’s just you and your favorite book… together forever.

Survey Results

My friends share their opinions on following or NOT following book trends.

@milazuliana I don’t follow trends. I only read “my kind of books”, but if the current trend fits into “my kind of books”, I get curious.

@milazuliana I don’t like to “jump into the bandwagon”, too. It’s either before or after the hype. :)

That’s a good way to go: reading a book before or after the hype. This way, I think, you can keep your own opinions free of influence. Total objectivity may just be achieved!

@angelikurniawan I don’t follow because not all the trendy books worth the hype like The Hunger Games for ex

@angelikurniawan that’s the exception. I like the millennium trilogy because I’m in love with Salander when I watched the movie.

@angelikurniawan and apparently that kinda story fit me but I watched the hunger games but to read the book, no thanks :)

If you know the story is not going to be to your liking, why waste time reading it? It all comes back to YOUR taste, in my opinion.

@dtorini The last #booktrends I follow and enjoy is Harry Potter. Lately I read what interest me (which may not be hip in book world).

@dtorini There’s JR Ward’s The Black Dagger Brotherhood that I follow. But I started reading them way before it became popular…

Lucky D. She’s been reading books for a long time. Even with popular romance novels, she knows authors long before they ever became popular.

@Astrapios I only follow book trends if the movie got my favourite actor/actress in it. Other than that, no.

@Astrapios I read them before they’re made into movies. Like, when there’s a rumour going on about it being planned. Not a trend yet, right?

Actually, I’ve been wondering. About last year when Jane Eyre came out. Did anyone read it because the movie was coming out? I think people were reading it because Jane Eyre is a classic, right? But that’s probably beside the point. Anyway, what Astrapios is saying could probably make a case for “selected trendy-ism”. Further pondering needed.

@ndarow hmm, because I read mostly everything, I don’t really care if the books I’m reading are on trend or not.

@ndarow but thankfully, most of the time I read books before they become widely known. For ex: HP, Twilight, HG

Yes! An omni-reader (my term) won’t care, usually, about what’s trendy or not. That’s because, either out of their own volition or some professional obligation, they will read absolutely ANYTHING and that includes trendy books. I believe if one does this for a long time, they will eventually be able to say, “I read that book before it became famous.”

Case in point:

@ndarow I read it two years ago, and I love it dearly. I’ve read it for five times now because I somehow see Charlie like I see myself.

(This was in relation to The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.)

@9perris not really, sometimes the hype makes me wants to try to read, but if I always re thinking before read (to avoid regrets) ^^;

@9perris me too, I tend to read looong after the hype, sometimes it even makes me don’t read it in the end, ex: Laskar Pelangi

@9perris oh if it’s can make me curious, then I’ll definitely read it in the end, but maybe needs some recommendation to encourage (depends on the books)

A cautious reader. Admirable, but my restraint is not as great as hers. (Wish it was, so my wallet could be thicker! ;) )

@kepikbadut my own interest. Like when I found that Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why is interesting, I just found out that the book’s quite popular

Accidental trendy-ism! No, but seriously, it’s always fun to discover a book on your own… only to find out later that yes, your favorite book is very popular. Consider it a validation of your good taste!

@aksamala for my personal reading, I don’t follow trends. If I’m interested then I’ll read it. But I got to follow #booktrends for my job.

@aksamala Been selling The Perks like peanuts, more than 20 cps a month. I read a few chapter and not interested to finish it #booktrends

In case you didn’t realize this since last week, I used to be her when I was working in the bookstore. We’re two peas from the same pod. And that is very well said indeed.

This ends our Sunday Survey for this week. Tune in again for the next session.


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