Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The truth about Mary Ingalls and what Barnes & Noble did for the industry

I grew up on the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: autobiographical books about growing up on the frontier, told in third-person story format for young readers.  So I was interested to see an NPR headline today that says Laura's sister, Mary Ingalls, who in the book went blind from scarlet fever, may have actually gone blind from viral meningoencephalitis.

Obviously the difference isn't that great -- it was still a disease that made her go blind -- but the fact that Wilder changed the disease to make it easier for her readers to understand shows how conscious she was of the audience she was writing for.

Another bit in the blurb talks about how Barnes & Noble transformed the bookstore industry by creating bookstores where people would spend more time: large stores with cafes, places to sit, and children's story times.  I have to share the quote, by The New Republic's Mark Athitakis, because I love it so much: "That was a business decision — more time spent in the store, more money spent when you left it — but it had a cultural effect. It brought literary culture to pockets of the country that lacked them."

Absolutely, and I love them for it.  In fact, Barnes & Noble has changed the way I read in a lot of ways, and I was already an avid reader -- but when I was younger, reading wasn't normally considered a social activity.  When I was in school, one of my best friends would come over, and we would read together, sometimes sharing short passages that amused us, and frequently loaning books back and forth between us.  But this was unusual, and even my mom -- the librarian -- teased us for it.

Thanks to Barnes & Noble and their cafe, however, reading has become more of an acceptable social event, and I love them for it!

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