My mother, I told a fellow author once, is the kind of reader you want. One time I recommended The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss to my mom — actually, I may have bought it for her as a present. Either way, she loved it. She bought several more hardback copies to give as birthday presents, and I am pretty sure once the trade paperback was out, she bought two extras to lend out to friends. I stress the two because buying one extra copy of a book she owns and loves is fairly ordinary for my mom. She sticks her return address labels on the extra copies and presses them into the hands of the friends and quilters with which her life abounds.
One library copy of your book, I’ve been told, translates to some number of readers — and those readers may in turn recommend your book, buy their own copy, or buy it as a gift. My mom, I’m convinced, is even better than a library, if she loves your book. In the case of Hearts of Horses, she probably bought at least five copies herself, and spurred some unknown quantity of other purchases.
I used to think of this specifically as something my mother does, until the other day I was talking books with my friend Dan. I know Dan reads ravenously and always has, and he is free with his recommendations. But as he pressed a historical murder mystery into my hands, I protested, “My to-read list is over 250 books long! If you give this to me, you’re not likely to get it back.”
“Oh, I don’t count on getting any book back that I lend out,” he said. “If I was worried, I’d buy a second copy to lend.” Suddenly, I realized: Dan is constantly extolling his favorite books. He lends books like you’re doing him a favor by taking them off his hands. I’m pretty sure he drove his friends’ reading as early as middle school (although I didn’t know him then, so it’s merest hearsay.) Dan is like my mom. Perhaps like my friend Jan, the English teacher with the vast bookshelf of lending books for her students — books she buys herself. They’re superreaders.
This is not meant to impute miraculous powers. While I imagine it’s easier to consume large stacks of literature and promote the chosen few if you read quickly, superspeed is not the defining characteristic: not being content simply to read and enjoy is. These people are boosters, and part of their enjoyment of reading is sharing it. These are the people who will drive the sort of social recommending model I envisioned in “The Future of Genre”. They’re tastemakers, pushers, book evangelists.
Who do you know that takes their love of reading out of the page and into the world? Are you a superreader?