Despite what you may have heard, the TV generation hasn't tuned out totally on reading. Some of its members love nothing more than to poke around book stores and libraries. What's more, they're not just looking for the latest bodice-ripper, self-help book or spy story to while away the time at the beach or on a plane.
Yuppie reading interests range from short classics like "Silas Marner" to long modern novels like " . . . And Ladies of the Club"; from children's literature to political novels by Anthony Burgess.
The San Fernando Valley has developed into especially fertile ground for serious readers. Bookstore aficionados commonly drive over the hill to visit Dutton's and Book City in North Hollywood and Book Castle in Burbank. "As far as I'm concerned the Valley has a lot of very literate groups of readers. There is a good solid literary base here," said Davis Dutton, owner of Dutton's.
Although Valley readers buy a lot of books on gardening, home improvement and film, Dutton says his strongest categories are literature, the arts, philosophy and books on the ancient world. "We sell a lot of Homer, Herodotus, and Xenophon."
The Sherman Oaks branch of the Los Angeles City Library system is the only one, according to branch librarians at the Central Library downtown, to schedule regular reading-discussion groups.
"We have two: a general book review that meets the third Thursday of every month, and a master works group that meets one Saturday a month," said librarian Diane Gordon, who organized the discussions a few months ago with the branch's support group, Friends of the Sherman Oaks Library. "The last one was 90 minutes, everyone stayed so long."
Broke Own Record
The city of Thousand Oaks' library is so popular that 3,000 people pass through every Sunday afternoon. It surpassed its own record in July, when 106,000 books were circulated. A discussion group meets the first Thursday of every month, with about 10 steady members and others that attend occasionally, depending on the book being discussed.
"For 'The Color Purple,' there were about 30 people," said Colleen Briner-Schmidt, vice president of the Friends of the Thousand Oaks Library. "For Dostoevsky, about eight."
Briner-Schmidt, 31, is also a member of the American Assn. of University Women (AAUW), which also holds reading discussion groups. "When I moved out here I didn't think of Southern California as being literary," she said. "But Thousand Oaks is unique. The AAUW has 500 members here. The Friends of the Thousand Oaks Library has about 300 members."
To some people, especially those whose memories of required reading lists in school are inexorably linked with Cliff Notes and Masterplots, the idea of volunteering to read a book and discuss it with others seems a bit odd. "But this is a lot more fun," said Briner-Schmidt. "Also, when you're 19, I know you think you're very worldly, but you just haven't lived. I'd love to re-read Shakespeare now. Dickens would be a lot more interesting, too."
Still, not all dedicated readers like to discuss books in groups. Martin Cannon, a 27-year-old commercial artist who lives in Canoga Park and reads about three books a week, doesn't even like to tell a bookstore clerk what he's looking for.
"Books are sometimes too personal to talk about," he said. "You're almost making yourself naked in a sense, because people make judgments about you." One book Cannon read recently was "Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution," yet another speculation on the Ripper's identity and motives. "And I can just imagine what people will think about me when they hear that," he said.
Cannon recalled, "Recently I was in Crown Books and some woman came in and asked at the desk, 'Do you have "The Cinderella Syndrome?" Do you have "Smart Women, Foolish Choices?" ' She went through a list of about 20 titles, all along the lines of 'How Not to Lose Your Heart to the First Good-Looking Guy Who Throws You a Line.' I would have felt less embarrassed for her had she been physically naked."
Some readers like to select and discuss books informally. "Usually, after I've read a book, I'll have someone else read it because it's nice to talk about it," said Cindi Dale, 31, who lives in Sherman Oaks and works in education and outreach at the UCLA Medical Center. Dale often has books suggested to her by a loose network of co-workers. She also reads The Times' Sunday book review every week and listens to reviews on National Public Radio.
Not all recommendations work out. "Right now," Dale said, "I'm reading a book by Robertson Davies, 'Rebel Angels.' He's a Canadian writer. I don't think it's that great, but I'm staying through to the end. Sometimes, though, I've gotten to the last 50 pages and not finished. I just didn't want to know any more. But I always read at least the first hundred pages. I think that's giving it a fair chance."
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