Just like gym memberships, detoxes and questioning where your life went wrong, reading challenges have become a predictable part of each New Year. The social reading and reviewing community Goodreads, for instance, boasts more than 477,000 members who have lied to themselves and publicly vowed they will read more books in 2015, their promises ranging from a handful of titles to numbers in the hundreds.
Having first ensured everyone is too busy gawping at baby photos and cat videos on Facebook to read, Mark Zuckerberg, the social media network’s 30-year-old co-founder and CEO, is now demanding we not only “like” books but read them, too.
On Jan. 2, Mr. Zuckerberg took to his Facebook page to announce a bookish resolution of his own. “My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week – with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies,” he wrote in a post that had accrued more than 120,000 likes by Monday evening.
His nascent book club’s inaugural selection is The End of Power by Moises Naim, the Venezuela-born, Washington-based former editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Mr. Zuckerberg said the book, published in March, 2013, “explores how the world is shifting to give individual people more power that was traditionally held only by large government, militaries and other organizations. The trend towards giving people more power is one I believe in deeply, and I’m looking forward to reading this book and exploring this in more detail.”
Mr. Zuckerberg is far from the first high-profile individual to take notice of the book, which has also been praised by the likes of Bill Clinton, George Soros and Arianna Huffington.
Despite the fact it is a Facebook initiative, Mr. Naim learned of his good fortune from another social media site: Twitter.
“Of course I’m delighted and surprised and, frankly, am now very curious to see what happens,” Mr. Naim said in a phone interview, during which time he praised Mr. Zuckerberg for his new endeavour. “He doesn’t know me. He’s not doing this for any other reason than what he saw as the merits of the book, and I greatly appreciate that.There is no interference of any other kind. There is no ulterior motive. There is no hidden agenda. He just got interested in a book that had an idea that intrigued him and he decided to read it and let all the people know. And I think that’s the perfect way.”
It seems to be working: Sales of the book are skyrocketing. Online retailer Amazon.com had sold out of physical copies as of Monday morning, though by late afternoon paperback copies were shipping once again; Lara Heimert, publisher of Basic Books, said they ordered an immediate reprint upon hearing the news Saturday.
“We knew we wouldn’t have enough copies to cover demand, or even close to covering demand,” Ms. Heimert said. (She declined to reveal the size of the reprint, though she described it as “very significant.”) “Obviously we’re working incredibly hard to make the book available here and abroad. We’re obviously fielding all sorts of questions from the media, and I think there will be a lot of media coverage because this is an exciting new thing – I mean, this is a new book club! This is a new major way of getting people talking about books.”
The new book club is already being compared, by many industry observers, to an old book club. Active between 1996 and 2011 (although an online version of the book club was launched in 2012), Oprah Winfrey’s book club was famous for immediately propelling new and lesser-known titles (and even classics, such as Anna Karenina) to the top of the sales charts. Ann-Marie MacDonald, whose novel Fall On Your Knees was featured in 2002, is one of only two Canadian authors to be chosen for the book club, said Ms. Winfrey provided “a huge public service” that resulted in “an avalanche of good fortune,” including immediately vaulting her novel onto The New York Times bestseller list in what she described as an “absolute whirlwind” of media attention.
“I think anything that encourages people to enrich their lives by reading is ultimately a really good thing,” she said. “But for the individual who is tapped to be, temporarily, at the eye of this storm of great good fortune – breathe through your nose and out slowly through your lips.”
Bahram Olfati, senior vice-president of print at Indigo Books and Music, said the chain has already ordered additional copies of The End of Power, which he said “sold modestly” when it was first published. Still, unlike the books chosen by Ms. Winfrey, which enjoyed a “huge sales bump” when selected, Mr. Olfati said it isn’t sales that has him excited about Mr. Zuckerberg’s reading challenge.
“Zuckerberg is giving us a broad challenge, to change how we read and how often,” he said. “Ironically, I see this challenge as him saying we should take a step back from the bite-sized reading we do on social media and dive into a real book. He’s recognizing the value in long-form reading, giving ourselves the time to really read and absorb ideas, not just skimming and ‘liking’ a list on our phones.”
Not that it has any choice, but Facebook has thrown its substantial weight behind Mr. Zuckerberg’s latest idea, creating a hub, A Year of Books, which already has more than 162,000 members.
“I’m exicted for my reading challenge,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote. “I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”
His decision to read a new book every two weeks came a week after asking Facebook users to help him choose a challenge for 2015, which resulted in suggestions from about 50,000 of his 31 million Facebook friends. Mr. Zuckerberg’s past yearly challenges include learning Mandarin and wearing a tie every day.
Mr. Naim laughed when asked if Mr. Zuckerberg’s initiative has him considering a reading challenge of his own. “I read several books at the same time, all the time,” he said.Report Typo/Error