Hartono Rakiman is a voracious reader who loves to talk about books. He always tried to strike up conversations with people about their latest reads, he said, but often found his attempts to engage in literary discussions with his friends and co-workers unsatisfying.
“We would ask each other about the books we had just read, but the answer was always just ‘It was exciting’ or ‘It was a great read,’ things like that,” Hartono said. “When I tried to dig deeper by asking why they thought it was exciting, the answer would be, ‘Well, um, it was just really exciting.’”
Hartono wanted more. He decided to create a Web site where people could feel free to share their thoughts and ideas about their favorite books. He invited his friends and later the general public to contribute to his new literary collective.
The result of his efforts is Rumah Baca, or Reading Home, a blog that includes the musings of about 200 contributors who write detailed analyses about the books they have read.
While 200 members may not seem like a lot, their dedication speaks through their writing. On the Web site, they review and discuss books with passion and depth.
Hartono said that what he really wanted to create through Rumah Baca was something that his writing teacher had once mentioned to him — a “binding meaning.”
“The term means that every person who reads a book finds new ways of looking at it — new concepts and values that are beneficial to themselves and the people around them,” Hartono said.
The idea of the blog is that people offer up their personal insights and opinions on a book, leading to other readers responding to those ideas and generating deeper layers of discussion.
“It unifies reading and writing into an inseparable entity,” Hartono said.
That is why the blog posts tend to avoid the critical tone of standard reviews. The posts are meant to be reflections on how the readers’ lives have been affected by their encounter with a good book.
While the blog’s concept was created by Hartono and his friends, it has quickly grown into a community that includes people from across the country.
At the end of last year, after three years of operation, the site had garnered 63,000 hits. In the first few months of this year, that number had climbed to 85,000.
Hartono said Andrea Hirata’s popular “Laskar Pelangi” (“Rainbow Troops”) books series greatly contributed to a rise in the Web site’s readership.
According to Hartono, the best-selling series not only reinvigorated the country’s readership, it also gave many young writers the inspiration and opportunity to get their own books on the market.
“Ever since that book was released, we’ve also seen a surge in new creative talents — young writers such as Ahmad Fuadi, Raditya Dika or Margareta Astaman,” Hartono said.
As Rumah Baca generates hardly any revenue, the community has moved into publishing to help fund its activities. Last year, with the help of the group, Hartono released his first book, “Mabuk Dollar di Kapal Pesiar” (“Drunk on Dollars on a Cruise Ship”), a collection of stories from his time working on cruise ships.
Having achieved success online and on the shelves, Hartono said the group hopes to have an even larger impact on the country’s reading culture by passing on its love of books to the next generation.
He and his friends started Rumah Baca Kids, which aims to improve literacy in villages with underprivileged kids. The group travels to places such as Parung and Bojong Kulur in Bogor every Sunday to read to children. The funds for the activities are derived from the group’s publishing ventures.
While Hartono and his friends regularly meet up for Rumah Baca Kids activities, many contributors to Rumah Baca say they prefer to gather online.
“Through our Web site, we are able to reach people from different parts of the country,” Hartono said. “In an offline community, we would only be able to meet our fellow Jakartans.”