Twitter is full of readers: ‘Why I Read’ makes trending topic

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On Wednesday, the hashtag #whyIread rolled out of bed in New York and caught the attention of Twitter readers everywhere. It was repeated so widely, so many times, that within hours, #whyIread had made Twitter’s Top 10 trending topics in Los Angeles, New York and nationwide.

While Twitter’s 140-character limitation makes it a strangely truncated place for communication, the #whyIread hashtag’s popularity shows that its users may be intellectually engaged after all.


Literary types, who spend much of their time on Twitter discussing books and reading, wondered why suddenly everyone else was too. ‘Wow! What influencers sparked the first RTs?’ tweeted Charlotte Abbot, a journalist and publishing consultant.

The originator was pinpointed by Galleycat, which found the original #whyIread tweet from agent Jason Ashlock. Actually, Ashlock had more than 140 characters to say on the subject: He’d posted a manifesto of sorts on his tumblr, which begins:

In the age of mass entertainment, books don’t seem very special. Even in their digital form, they don’t seem to do very much, and the gadgets designed to hold them are, as far as gadgets go, unimpressive. Books are quiet objects: they don’t flash and whirr. They are rarely captivating to the eye — black lines on white paper — nor pleasant to the ear. They are static, unassuming, silent, subtle. They are often too expensive for those who don’t care about them as amusement, and not expensive enough for those who might care about them as acquisitions. Books are, simply by being themselves, in their quiet assurance and unintrusiveness, anti-entertainment. They ask as much from us as they give. They give us nothing if we don’t start the relationship. And even then they don’t give away their secrets or pleasures easily. Satisfaction may come from a book, but it has to be fought for. You have to earn it. So why do so many people, when offered so many options, still choose the book as their preferred form of amusement, engagement, education, relaxation, advancement?

Ashlock e-mailed about 50 publishing colleagues with strong social media footprints: Bethanne Patrick, a critic who has more than 32,000 followers @thebookmaven; Ami Greko, a smart and tech-savvy literary publicist; agent-author Jason Pinter; agent Colleen Lindsay; developer Hugh McGuire; and journalist Guy LeCharles Gonzalez. People responded with enthusiasm.

Tumblr was an important part of it -- at least, it was for me. The blogging platform, which had its first major outage earlier this week, was back up and running when I checked this morning. There, I saw Greko’s link to Ashlock’s post. I took a look, saw the hashtag, and before thinking I was joining a trend tweeted my own. I realized I had more reasons to read than I had time to tweet them, so I moved on and wrote a blog post about Dick Cavett and Mel Brooks.

But as the hours passed, I watched the hashtag go by. People were clearly taking advantage of the chance to write about why they read. The idea was intimate, unexpected -- when’s the last time someone at a party asked you why you read? -- and surprisingly welcome.

Is #whyIread the biggest book-related Twitter trending topic since April 2009’s #AmazonFail? I think it might be.

I’m one of those people who spends a lot of time talking about what I’m reading. It’s nice to be reminded how important the why is to readers too.

-- Carolyn Kellogg