Thursday, October 19, 2006

we're all kin here


Here's what I'm thinking. People who used to read twenty books a year are now reading two. They don't want to waste those two reads, they want to make sure they pick the right two books, so they depend on the media to tell them what to read. They'll choose something that's been near the top of the NYT list for a while, and they're going to choose something everybody's talking about.

Here's what else I think. Of the people left who are reading twenty or more books a year -- a large percentage of them are writers, published and unpublished. And the rest? Many are connected to the writing field in some way.

So except for certain areas such as YA books, are we mainly writing for other writers and people in the field? And are those people mainly trying to keep track of what's going on in the business? Or does it just look that way from my window? Are there enough of us to keep this boat from sinking? I think there might be.

50 comments:

M. G. Tarquini said...

People who love books still read. What we're up against, IMH and most scientifically made up out of whole cloth opinion, is people who've never grown into the habit of reading. You see it in the schools. There's the kid who waits for his ride home with his nose in a book, then there's the ten who are working their Gameboys.

I do my bit to subvert the techo-pop system. When my kids get invited to birthday parties, we do our gift-shopping at Borders. I always find it disturbing how surprised parents are to find out I bought their kid a...book. It's like it never occurred to them. One mom, with delight spreading across her face said, 'What a great idea! And it doesn't need batteries!'

anne frasier said...

"It's like it never occurred to them. One mom, with delight spreading across her face said, 'What a great idea! And it doesn't need batteries!"

jesus. that is SO disturbing!!! and good for you for giving books. i've noticed a big shift in airports over the past few years. used to be nice to see so many people walking around with books. now they all have laptops, etc. i don't know when i last saw somebody at an airport with a book.

Bethany K. Warner said...

That's a scary thought that writers are only writing for other writers.
On the other hand, every place I've lived has had a thriving library which means some non-writer people are going and picking up books.
I think we readers need to do a better job of encouraging our non-reader friends and suggesting books that they might like. Not necessarily the latest Pulitzer winner but one that they won't feel overwhelmed reading. Case in point -- a friend of mine asked me for reading suggestions and I offered up the Janet Evanovich series because I thought she'd get a kick out of them. She's now finished the whole series (something I haven't done yet!)

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Have to agree with Mindy on that one. Reading fiction for entertainment is a habit the people need to grow up with. It's competing with the XBox, the internet, the television. If someone doesn't grow up valuing reading for enjoyment, it's going to be difficult to get them to.

Though I'm not a fan of the books, thank god for Harry Potter. If anything more and more children are reading because of it. And the kids who are chewing through Eragon today are the ones who are going to be voraciously devouring novels tomorrow.

At least, that's how I started out.

Kelly Parra said...

You're right, I do think some people are buying into a certain hot genre to get the feel of it if they are trying to write it. I've heard of agents and editors reading books to keep up with the market, not just for enjoyment.

As for the occasional reader, I agree on them reading what everyone is talking about...and I think there are also the hardcore readers who don't write. I meet a lot of people like this who maybe buy 12 - 15 books a year. Maybe they have that idea in the back of their mind about one day writing THE novel, but just love books. =D

I'm thinking it's enough to keep the industry going. At least I hope!

M. G. Tarquini said...

In our old house, the kids had a computer set up. It was a constant fight over whether or not they could have the internet card to go online. Even when I kept the card, I'd find them sneaking around playing computer games. In this house we haven't 'set up' the media room yet. The only working TV is in my room. Their computer is still unconnected. Their reading time, which had started to decrease, again soars. So much so, that I have to squirrel away books that I buy for myself. My son absconded with the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night and won't give it back until he's finished reading it.

The kids complained at first about the lack of connectedness. Now they don't care.

anne frasier said...

bethany, i think you are so right about it having to be the right kind of book. my son loved to read until he reached junior high and they made them read some awful stuff. that completely killed his interest in books. very disturbing that school did this. he didn't read an entire book again until he was out of high school. i gave him a copy of catcher in the rye and told him to try it. that was it. he was a reader again. i also knew a guy who's wife was illiterate. he was extremely well-educated, and he taught her to read and kept giving her all this dry crap she had no interest in. then he gave her one of my early romance novels and she suddenly turned into a voracious reader.

stay_c said...

I have two young boys (6 & 3). Books are always on their Christmas list, and few toys. I get so many comments of "Really? They want books?" Yes. My 6you not only knows what an author does (writes the words), but also an illustrator (draws the picture. Some do both). When I read to my 3yo, he says the name of each contributor to the book.

I get so mad at the people who question this, confirm that I really meant books, and buy them toys at the Dollar store anyway.

Great. One more piece of crap to throw away when it breaks in three or four minutes.

Like I don't know my own kids.

anne frasier said...

stephen, i so agree about harry potter. those books have helped create a new generation of readers.



"Maybe they have that idea in the back of their mind about one day writing THE novel, but just love books."

kelly, i wondered if those people still existed. the ones who are kind of fascinated by the writing world, have a idea, but really just love books. it's nice to hear you are running into them.

anne frasier said...

mindy and stay-c: you guys rock! because it all goes back to the parents. that's where it has to start. both of your stories are so cool and uplifting. my mood has just taken a huge jump.

Bill Cameron said...

Nothing can kill a love of reading faster than required reading in English class. I was lucky, I think, in that my love of reading was inculcated in me before I hit high school. Because from 9th grade until the first semester of my senior year, I didn't enjoy anything assigned. Finally I took an ELECTIVE English class in which we read Kurt Vonnegut and similar smart but eclectic, and contemporary, authors that we enjoyed because we were in the right place mentally and emotionally for them. What the hell does a teenage boy (as well as plenty of teenage girls) care about Jane Austen? Nowadays, though, I rather enjoy Jane Austen. Just for example.

Part of it was the way the books were taught, of course. The books came with a sense of obligation and burden that pretty much destroyed any chance we might enjoy them. Beyond that, the books were chosen with no sense of what teenagers care about or can reasonable comprehend. For example, I hated The Scarlett Letter in 10th grade. It was a slog from stem to stern. And what was I supposed to get out of it? In college, it came up again for a class and my first thought was, "Good, I don't have to read that again." But then I started to skim to make sure I'd be okay for a quiz, got caught up, and read it in one long sitting. Four years made all the difference in my ability to understand the novel and appreciate. It became one of my favorites.

It seemed like every book assigned in high school was like that. Too much, too soon, and too overwrought with import. No one ever talked about enjoying the book. We had to LEARN them. Is it any wonder so many people escape education with a mindset that thank god they don't have to read anymore?

For young readers, the notion of "expanding our minds and introducing us to the canon" should take a back seat to encouraging us to love reading.

angie said...

I second Stephen (I find this odd...) re. the Harry Potter books. Thank god for Rowling bringing up a new generation of readers. Love the books or loathe them, writers everywhere should thank their lucky stars for HP. Let's face it, the stories have it all - mystery, thriller, fantasy, coming-of-age, quest, romance, etc., etc.

Most kids will read if they don't have constant access to television (don't even get me started on the relationship between t.v. and increased aggression & occurrence of ADD & ADHD in kids) and video games. It really is up to the parents, dammit.

Completely unrelated sidenote. The street signs reminded me of my favorite unfortunate convergence. A friend of mine got married at a pink Catholic church in Flagstaff on the corner of Beaver and Cherry. I can't visit Flag and drive by the place without laughing my ass off...

anne frasier said...

"For young readers, the notion of "expanding our minds and introducing us to the canon" should take a back seat to encouraging us to love reading."

wow. that's it right there.

i also somehow managed to escape most of the awful high school reading, probably by taking electives.

"A friend of mine got married at a pink Catholic church in Flagstaff on the corner of Beaver and Cherry. I can't visit Flag and drive by the place without laughing my ass off."

:D oh, that's SO WRONG!!!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"I second Stephen (I find this odd...) "

Hey, now! Watch it there, missy.

When I was in high school I got stuck reading "The Secret Sharer" and "Turn of The Screw". God that hurt. Now if it had been "Heart of Darkness" they might have been onto something.

It didn't kill my love for books, but it did narrow my scope for a little while. I started to believe that if an English teacher liked it, or if it was "literature" then I probably wasn't going to like it. Even "Catcher In The Rye" didn't pull me out of that. Henry Miller did, though. I think it was all the Parisian seediness.

Tami said...

I agree with all of you. You have to start the love of books in your children at an early age. My niece is now 2 and a half and she LOVES books. Each Christmas (well, the two she's been alive, lol) I've bought her big collections of children's classics knowing that I would need to buy them early. Once she's older, books won't be very exciting to her Christmas time, it will be all about the toys. She now owns a HUGE assortment of books (seriously probably close to 100 books) and is content to sit and look at them and "read" them. It's amazing. My sister and brother-in-law have read to her from day one.

As far as writers supporting the reading market, I fall into the catagory of being a HUGE reader who decided to give writing a shot. I have always admired writers and always thought it would be amazing to write something that would some day be published but never thought it was possible. One day I just woke up and wondered what has really kept me from giving writing a shot. Here I am today, writing every day.

I currently read about 1-2 books a week (I've read 38 so far this year and yes, I am that big of a nerd that I keep track.) I can't imagine life without books and constantly need to be reading one no matter how busy my life is. Growing up, I could sit in my room and read 2 books in one sitting and run out and ask my mom to take me back to the bookstore that same day. My mom always supported my love for books which helped me continue to be an avid reader. On the other hand, I was also a kid who loved cartoons and video games.

I was one of those kids with a gameboy in hand, but that didn't keep me away from reading. I think kids can have a balance with both worlds. I currently work in the video game industry :::ducks::: and think that they aren't all bad for children. Again, balance is the key and choosing the RIGHT games for your children is also key.

Jaye Wells said...

Anne, this is a great subject. I wrote a really long rambling post exploring different ideas and thoughts on it. But my head started hurting.

I know there are die-hard readers out there who have zero aspirations to write--my husband is one of them. Also, the increased popularity of book groups is another indicator that the picture is not nearly so bleak as we like to paint it.

But I think it's like a lot of things, commercialization and the information tidal wave we're hit with every day wears people out. I have heard so many people lately talk about how overwhelmed they feel by their dependence on technology. I have to hope some of these people step back and will rediscover the magic of the imagination and the quiet awe of reading a good book.

I think the grass roots methodology is a good one. Recomend books to your friends and family, give them as gifts, etc. Don't give them a gift certificate or there's a high likelihood it will be used for CDs or DVDs instead. Handpick the book for the recipient.

OK, damn, I rambled anyway.

anne frasier said...

stephen: Parisian seediness. ooh, that's nice.

tami: fantastic post! you brought another POV that's really interesting. it also reminded me that someone else who posts here is also in the game biz -- and also a writer. that makes me think that the two can really work together. it doesn't have to be one or the other. my daughter played video games, but she also read at least a couple of books a week.

and this was me: I fall into the catagory of being a HUGE reader who decided to give writing a shot.

M. G. Tarquini said...

My parents are nearing 80. They are the most well-read people I know. Each reads 5 or more books a WEEK. Mom always said, 'You're never alone if you have a book.' When we complained of being bored, we were offered a choice - read a book or scrub the bathroom.

They don't buy their books. They visit the library. That's good from the writer's perspective because the library market is nothing to scoff at and libraries order and reorder authors based on the number of times a book is checked out.

I know people, fewer and fewer, alas, it seems, who read for the pleasure. I love talking with these people. They know so much, are so well-spoken, understand the art of conversation.

Regarding gaming and television: They have their place, just not in my house. My kids are almost 10. They have black belts in Tae Kwon Do, and are competitive gymnasts. Piano lessons, reading, schoolwork and family time provide the balance we seek for them. These are the best years of their lives, the healthiest and most carefree. I hate to think of them spending it staring a plasma screen.

anne frasier said...

jaye, another fantastic post!! thanks! i realized i cut and pasted most of it! :D you are so right about so many people talking about being overwhelmed. i also love your idea of handpicking a book, rather than giving a gift certificate. i love when i go to once upon a crime and the owner puts a specific book in my hand and says he thinks i'll like it.

"have heard so many people lately talk about how overwhelmed they feel by their dependence on technology. I have to hope some of these people step back and will rediscover the magic of the imagination and the quiet awe of reading a good book.

I think the grass roots methodology is a good one. Recomend books to your friends and family, give them as gifts, etc. Don't give them a gift certificate or there's a high likelihood it will be used for CDs or DVDs instead. Handpick the book for the recipient."

mai wen said...

I've heard this theory that we are writing for other writers in the frame of it's our duty as writers to read and to keep reading in order to support our fellow writers! I'm always game for that, I love reading anyways. I do agree with your theory, I think if it's not on the NYC bestsellers list then it's probably never been heard of. I also feel that the reading of literary fiction is going down (which is my writing style), but this is just more observational than factual. If I see someone reading a book, it's rarely literary but I've seen many thrillers, especially those political thrillers like Crichton which makes me feel like even more I'll be writing for other writers rather than the masses if my style/genre is not generally being read!

Oh well, I'd like to reach the masses but it is what it is. Maybe Oprah will pick me for her book club? Oh, but by the time I have a book published she'll probably already be retired. Well, there goes my one chance of making the NYC best seller list!

jason evans said...

I think the ship has taken on water and is listing. However, I don't believe it is directly sinking. I still hear about book clubs where non-writers get together to read and discuss novels. My mother-in-law belongs to one. I'm also very encouraged when books like The Kite Runner make the best seller list. Books are still being read for importance and impact. That's a wonderful sign.

Let me also add to the shout out for Harry Potter. If you don't love reading as a kid, you'll probably never love reading. The success of those books was a huge step in the right direction.

Hulles said...

Hey, I like the Harry Potter books. Call me a rebel. Rowling seems to have assumed the mantle of Roald Dahl, who I love. (Okay, if not assumed the mantle, she at least tried it on once.)

I think the question you asked is sort of inverted: it is MUCH easier today to "be a writer" than it ever has been in history; the so-called blogosphere is an excellent example of this. Being a published-for-money writer is a little different, of course, but the opportunity is now within reach of every Tom, Dickens and Harry. So my assertion is that most of the reading public are primarily readers, who for the first time can extend pseudopods into the murky sea of writing, and hence are nominally "writers".

Hell, even I'm growing pseudopods...damn that Stephen Blackmoor! It must be the Great Old ones coming through on the word verification again.

anne frasier said...

mindy, 5 books a week! that's amazing for people their age. and i have to admit i have mixed feelings about games. we never had a problem with them, but i've certainly heard unbelievable stories from parents about kids who are addicted to them. and it's like they're talking about junkies.

mai wen: literary fiction is also on the skids? damn! there goes my next project. maybe i'll keep that on the backburner a little longer. i haven't been paying attention; i thought literary fiction was doing well simply because of all the trade paperbacks that have taken over bookstores.

anne frasier said...

jason, i must be the only person on earth who didn't understand the popularity of the kite runner. here i felt it was one of those hyped books that everybody read because of the hype. the writing itself wasn't that great, but i could actually see his growth as a writer as the book progressed. by about the halfway point, he hit his stride and the rest progressed pretty well. i don't know much about it, but i always suspected he wrote the first 200 pages over several years while learning the craft.

i've spoken blasphemy, i know. *hangs head*

anne frasier said...

hulles: haha!! thanks! i had some unformed thought in my head and couldn't catch it. you put it together beautifully.

"So my assertion is that most of the reading public are primarily readers, who for the first time can extend pseudopods into the murky sea of writing, and hence are nominally writers."

i had to google pseudopods. now i must use that word every day for the rest of my life.

anne frasier said...

i also think the internet has made it easier for people to realize that being a writer is entirely possible. it's not a remote pipe dream.

angie said...

Being a writer may not be a remote pipe dream, but I'm still tickled by those who don't understand what fucking hard work it is to write well. I'm equally amused at how much more I have to learn about this here writing thingie.

Re. the video game issue. Hey, I'm a (mostly) unabashed Mario game-a-holic. I loves me some Nintendo puzzle/quest games. But it's that whole mesmerize growing, developing minds for hours and hours thing that I've got an issue with. And yeah, that comes down to parental oversight (or lack thereof). Not inherently evil, but highly addictive & not all that damn helpful for kids in my hypothetically hypocritical opinion.

:o)

Heather Harper said...

My in law has a degree in English and reads a lot. More than anyone I've ever met. But she doesn't want to write.

I vote for stay afloat.

(And I received my auction pkg today in the mail. Thanks!)

M. G. Tarquini said...

mindy, 5 books a week! that's amazing for people their age.

Why? It's people their age who likely read most of the books. And the daily paper.

anne frasier said...

angie, people don't have a clue how hard it is unless they've tried it. and i'm just talking about writing a whole damn, cohesive book. there's all the other crap -- the business that's another hard.

i tend to agree that the game addiction comes down to parental oversight. i'd think there would have to be some warning signs...

super mario bros. sigh. :D

heather, i think part of my paranoia comes from basically only knowing artists. i feel like every damn person in the twin cities is a writer or musician, but i don't think that's true. :D and not that there's anything wrong with that. it's great, actually.

thanks for letting me know the package arrived! a lot of mail from this place never gets to its destination. not sure what that's all about. and thanks for your winning bid!!!

anne frasier said...

i think reading drops off as people get older. that's partly because of small print, although the numbers of large-print books are increasing. but i also think attention spans get shorter as people age. i know my dad wouldn't be able to stay focused on a book. tv viewing has gotten to be a big thing, but nothing too involved.

Jeff said...

"People who used to read twenty books a year are now reading two."

And why is that? Because reading takes time, and we live in a fast-paced, I want it now, impatient, spoiled society. Why spend days reading a novel when you can get it all in a two hour movie? And you certainly don't want to run the risk of missing an episode of "Law and Order" or "Survivor" or "Deal or No Deal" because you had your nose buried in some book, do you?
If I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say,"I just don't have time to read" I would never have to work another day of my life.
People make time for the things they want to do, and what is important to them.

anne frasier said...

jeff, i do wonder if people will start unplugging. i certainly know i've unplugged without being conscious of it. i just reached a saturation point.

books are the next best thing to comfort food, so we can always hope.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Haven't trawled through all this fascinating discussion just yet (I'm usually asleep when all the fun goes on around her), but I thought I'd jump in with a quickie:

If writers are the only people reading, how do we get more people to write?

One endeavour that grows exponentially each year is NaNoWriMo.

Mr. Blackmoore and I are both doing it this year. At least in my case, there's a whole new circle of friends that are going to be indoctrinated by the idea. Fat chance they'll do it, though.

anne frasier said...

daniel, i say we start breeding people to write.

i can already see the t-shirts. a cute little fetus holding a pen. hey, that's not a bad idea!!

a fetus with a book

breed and read

breeders and readers

bookfed -- a baby being breastfed by a book

Daniel Hatadi said...

Trust you to bring breastfeeding into it! :D

Tami said...

Daniel and Stephen, I'll be doing NanoWrimo this year as well. What are your usernames and I'll add you both to my buddy list on the site to watch your progress!? You'll find me under Seeker4

Sandra Ruttan said...

I tried to comment earlier but blogger wouldn't let me.

Argh.

I think there are still readers out there. And the one thing we can do is invest our energy in creating readers for the future.

anne frasier said...

daniel: haha! i was hoping somebody would notice that!

tami: that is so cool!!! good luck to all of you! I'm excited about keeping an eye on your progress.

sandra: breed and read -- i'm thinking t-shirts for the next bouchercon.

Anne McAllister said...

Good topic, Anne! Lots of interesting comments.

We never had a TV in the house when our kids were growing up. Other kids thought they were "too poor" to have one. We thought we were giving them alternatives to mindless viewing. They all say now that it was a great gift. I also notice that they all have TVs -- but they don't watch much. And they all read. One reads fiction, and three read non-fiction mostly, but they all usually have a book going. And their kids all read or like to be read to.

I don't know that I agree about reading less as you get older, Anne. My dad was never a reader until he retired. And then he made up for all the years he didn't read by reading everything that had words on it. He used to come visit me and start at one end of my bookcase and work his way through shelf by shelf. He seemed particularly intrigued by regency romances. Who'd a thunk it?!

anne frasier said...

anne, that's really wonderful that your kids appreciate growing up with no television. when i was growing up we were only allowed to watch tv a couple of times a week, but my husband was a tv addict. if you were in the house, the tv was on. and if it had a laugh track, all the better. i did worry about the impact that would have on the kids. it was actually one of the things we really argued about. he won because i'm a wimp.

apparently i'm wrong about elderly people and books! and that's so funny and cool about your dad and regency romances!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Breeders and Readers?

No.

Just... just no. Children and I are a bad combination. Really.

anne frasier said...

stephen: oh, come on. just one for the tribe.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

How about this, I'll teach my dogs to read. Just as soon as I teach them not to eat my socks.

anne frasier said...

start them on go, dog, go! i think they'll love that.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

If you want to feel better about all this, just go to the library. You'll find plenty of people there, reading books, checking out stacks of them. Granted, they aren't buying them, but at least the libraries are.

As for airports, I've taken a lot of plane rides lately and I can tell you that no matter where I'm sitting on the plane, there are always people around me reading books. Yes, some are on laptops, but I see more book activity than laptop, probably simply because a book is easier to deal with.

Bouchercon showed me that there are a lot of readers out there. I met a couple on the shuttle to the hotel who have been to something like twenty Bouchercons and neither of them is a writer. They just love to read. And I know there are a LOT of people out there who feel the same.

The market has diminished I'm sure -- I'm too new to the business to really know -- but as long as we provide the books, people will read. And I don't think it's as dire as you suggest.

anne frasier said...

rob, i've also wondered if a lot of travelers are reading e-books, which wouldn't be obvious.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I've never really noticed. But I've seen examples of these new readers that actually look like book pages rather than computer screens and I'd love one of those myself. You could carry your whole collection in one reader.

Of course, I'd also have to have the books themselves, just because I love them, but to have the words on a reader would be great. Wouldn't it be nice if every book came with a disk that included the ebook version?

briliantdonkey said...

Another fascinating topic Anne. I agree to an extent and think totally the opposite to an extent as well. First, I think there are still plenty of people out there that read for the pure enjoyment of it. Whether they are only reading the talked about stuff I dont have a clue. I know that I do(read for the pure enjoyment of it) so maybe that is my way of saying 'I hope everyone else does it otherwise I am a wierdo'. I still constantly have a book with me(or nearby) no matter where I go. As for the writing for other writers part:
I am pretty new to the whole Idea of possibly 'writing something' someday or at least new to admitting it may be more than a wild out there pipe dream. One of my biggest fears of such is that getting better and polishing my writing will at the same time HURT my enjoyment of reading by making me look too hard for dangling modifiers instead of just relaxing and enjoying the story. I made a pact with myself not long after deciding to 'explore this writing thang' that if I ever saw signs of that happening the writing NOT the reading would have to go.

Again, Fascinating subject. Thanks for the read. A bit TOO fascinating in fact. I usually tend to make some kind of joke or smart arse comment while commmenting in blogs but your discussions keep overiding that impulse.....

BD

anne frasier said...

rob, hmm. that's an interesting idea!


briliantdonkey, so nice to see you again. :) i think my post is one we can't answer. i suppose i waste my time worrying about these things that for one thing can't be answered, and for another can't be solved! it is great to hear you always have a book with you. i like that image of people carrying books. i wonder if all the organizations banned together to start a suble ad campaign.... i know nancy reagan did it years ago, but people don't want to hear that stuff from NR. not really. if books could start appearing on tv and in movies. not product placement, but just people carrying books. not a damn ad.

oops. there i go again.

oh, and writing does mess with my enjoyment of reading -- unless the book is amazing. then i find i can still read it as a reader and not an editor.