Books Make Great Company: Why We Read in an Age of Social Media | National Humanities Center

Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

Books Make Great Company: Why We Read in an Age of Social Media

Social Media; Books; Reading; Novels

Ann Wierda Rowland (Center Trustee; Fellow, 2019–20; Associate Professor of English Literature)

February 25, 2021

The death of the book and the decline of literary reading have been threatened for over two decades now. How can the humble novel compete with the latest social media apps to capture our attention and connect us to others? And yet the experience of imaginative, immersive, literary reading endures and remains one of humanity’s most vital cognitive and cultural processes. This is because books and literary reading are not throw-back alternatives to social media, but instead precursor forms of social media. We still read novels because they remain one of our most effective technologies for socializing, communicating, and keeping company with others. The first goal of this webinar is to uncover and understand the social basis of literary reading. To accomplish this goal, we will examine how reading has historically been approached as a social experience, and we will look at what happens cognitively and psychologically in the process of reading to make even the most solitary reader feel like they are in the company of others. Armed with these historical and cognitive accounts of reading, we will then turn to the second goal of the webinar: to become more self-aware about the experience of literary reading and to articulate for ourselves and our students what novels can do that other forms of entertainment cannot, what the experience of literary reading offers that other forms of social media simply do not.


Literature / History / Social Media / Books / Reading / Novels /