Second part of the Meetings of Cities of Literature 2022
By Christine Yunn-Yu Sun
This week, Christine Yunn-Yu Sun wrote the second part of a series of three articles on the 2022 Meeting of Cities of Literature organized by Melbourne, our UNESCO City of Literature since 2008.
As part of the Literature Cities Network 2022 meeting recently held in Melbourne, representatives from cities around the world agreed on one thing during the “Reader Development” roundtable. In other words, during the COVID pandemic lockdowns over the past two years, active readership has plummeted. In contrast, existing readers read more but felt reluctant to stray from their familiar authors and genres.
Specifically, as readers favored comfort over adventure, sales skyrocketed in “comfortable” genres such as romance, true crime, and science fiction. Nevertheless, comprehensive data from libraries, publishers and booksellers is needed to understand reading behaviors. habits and tastes have changed.
An equally pressing question is how to cultivate new readers while encouraging existing readers to “take risks.” Especially when government funding and subsidies are dwindling in an apparent effort to encourage ‘living with the virus’, finding innovative and sustainable ways to engage and grow new readers is essential.
A variety of valuable lessons were shared. For example, Sylvain Pothier-Lerous and Gérard Desaphy from Angoulême – the French city renowned for its reputation in the field of comics and more broadly in the image industry – explained how they worked with the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library of Manga and Subcultures at Meiji University in Tokyo to promote manga and connect with readers.
Andrea Edel from Heidelberg stressed the importance of providing readers with more access and resources. In this city, reading is promoted as a way to improve our well-being, not just for education or pleasure. Adult readers are targeted as role models for their children and as starters of much-needed conversations about books and reading. “Reading and talking together” can be therapeutic at home, especially in these unusual and uncertain times.
Meanwhile, diversity, equity and inclusion are important. As Linda Johannessen from Gothenberg pointed out, 28% of Sweden’s population is of foreign origin. Parents often speaking different languages at home, children have no real “first language”. So it’s hard for them to “sit and read together and have that special bond.”
According to the Gothenburg City of Literature website, as of 2015, “The City Where We Read to Our Children” is a community effort to raise awareness and increase knowledge about the importance of reading aloud. By reading to children, parents can help increase their vocabulary, love of reading, and reading skills. “Acting early in a child’s life will have a profound effect both for the child here and how, but also for society as a whole.”
Seattle’s Josh Fomon highlighted the city’s efforts to work with writers of African descent as well as writers of color to promote inclusion and cultivate leadership. He also lamented that earlier this year a librarian in Texas was fired for refusing to remove books featuring the life experiences of LGBTQ people. It seems crucial that conversations about the importance of diversity and inclusion take place not just in libraries and bookstores, but also in entire communities.