Tag Archives: readers

Read a book, so I don’t have to be sad.

The Washington Post released a story on May 12 that made me make my sad face, to say the least. You can read the article for yourself, but it essentially summarizes a report from Common Sense Media that found a dramatic decrease in the number of young people who are reading for pleasure. I know I’m preaching to the proverbial choir here, since the blogosphere is full of literary types, but this breaks my heart and I have to say it somewhere.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson (flickr username: chefranden)

Photo credit: Randen Pederson (flickr username: chefranden)

Even as a child, books were my refuge, some of my best teachers, and constant friends. They encouraged my creativity, and provided insight into places/times/cultures I had never encountered in person. We all know that books can serve a great purpose as both educators and entertainers. What we don’t always think about is the effect they have on our personal development. Reading, quite simply, facilitates compassion. It helps us embrace diversity, introducing us to a variety of people and situations from the comfort of our own favorite comfy chairs. And we live in a world that is increasingly in need of compassion.

That’s what bothers me most about these stats: I don’t want to see the percentage of understanding people drop lower and lower with every flip of the calendar. I don’t want younger generations to lose an entire channel of information, a direct line into the inner workings of another individual’s mind. I don’t want kids to grow into adults who don’t know any better.

That said, I also know a lot (note: a LOT) of adults who don’t read. They think they don’t like books, that all avid readers are traditionally “bookish.” Personally, I’m a firm believer that everyone does like to read–they may have just not met the right book yet. (Literary matchmaking is my favorite, by the way.) These adults usually hated the required reading list when they were in school, didn’t do any reading at home, and came to the conclusion that all books were evil, scholastic heathens, sent to ruin their GPAs. When they graduated, they tossed literature aside to concentrate on more “productive” pursuits. Or, you know, to watch TV or something.

So here’s my request, of everyone, because I want our collective sense of compassion to grow in the coming years–because we can’t afford to see it shrink:

Read a book.

If you love to read, read something new. Immerse yourself in the story, or the poem, or the biography. Read whatever makes you happy, makes you think, makes you better. Talk about what you read, if you feel excited about it. Recommend the book to a friend.

If you’re sure you hate reading, hear me out. Please, please, just give it one more try. Please. Find a reader, someone you trust, and ask them for a recommendation. Visit a library. Listen to an audiobook during your commute. Read something you’ll enjoy. Don’t put pressure on yourself, or worry about the number of pages or how long it takes you to reach the end. A book is not about its ending. Even if you end up hating it, try to understand why. If you don’t hate it, try to understand why.

And if you have kids, help them find their books. Mine were Dr. Seuss titles and Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter stories. I read through my elementary library’s inventory of Ramona books, and shortly thereafter, The Saddle Club and The Babysitters Club series (clubs were a big thing for a while). Read bedtime stories. Give books as birthday presents. Find a book that makes your child smile, and then find more books like that. They’ll branch out on their own, eventually. When kids want to talk about what they read, talk with them. Listen to them. Don’t rush them. Don’t force it too much. Let them catch you reading.

Let’s all be more compassionate. Engage with characters. Lose ourselves in stories, then find ourselves in them. We must allow ourselves to feel something beyond our own experience.

You can help me make my happy face, and I’ll be very grateful.

 

Self-Publishing: A Quandary

I used to have a firm, unshakeable opinion on self-publishing. “Don’t do it,” I would say, when writer friends asked my opinion on the matter. It seems like every Joe(sephine) Shmoe and his/her mother is self-pubbing lately, leading to a flood of “OMG MY NEW BK IS OUT BUY NOW ON AMAZON ONLY $2.99 THIS WK!”-esque nonsense overtaking my Twitter feed. I still hate that, for the record–but it’s an issue that extends to writers with traditional publishers, as well as the self-pubbers…and that’s a marketing conversation for another day.

via Flickr user Rach (Rachel Sian) @ http://flic.kr/p/qe8Vd

via Flickr user Rach (Rachel Sian) @ http://flic.kr/p/qe8Vd

The main problem with self-publishing was, and continues to be, a lack of curation in the process. Without the traditional pipeline of agents and editors, a ton of sub-par and unintelligible writing makes its way to the public eye. The success of platforms like Amazon’s CreateSpace has eliminated the hierarchy of the publishing world. While browsing the internet for a new read (And let’s face it, that’s where people are looking nowadays. Not that I don’t love and prefer local indie bookstores, but this is a truth-telling space), there’s no pre-purchase guarantee that a self-published book has been read and vetted by someone with a trustworthy opinion about literature. There may be grammatical errors, distracting structures, incomplete characterizations–but here’s the big takeaway, my friends: traditionally published books have those, too. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. Most publishers are professionals who work with authors, editors, production gurus, and proofreaders to ensure an end product that at the very least reflects the cleanest version of its content. There are, however, also a huge number of writers without publishers who work to achieve the same effect. That’s the realization that lead to my change of heart. Today’s publishing industry is a corporate feudal system, where the majority of writers serve as peasant farmers and payday reigns supreme. The focus has shifted from harvesting and distributing quality books–beloved by editors, publishers, and readers alike–to bulk production of whatever the masses are willing to ingest at any given moment. The great acquisition question is no longer, “Is the work good?” Now, from the bottom of the slush pile all the way to the tippy top bookshelf, the literary powers-that-be are asking themselves, “Will it sell?”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s even marginally interested in reading. And in a way, we have the fluffy-melodramatic-romances-that-shall-not-be-named to thank for keeping money rolling in for the book people. Still, the fact remains that publishing houses put out crap sometimes. And agents and editors pass up fantastic, heartfelt, well-written manuscripts all the time–usually out of necessity more than greed or ignorance. It’s the nature of the game, and for the time being, it’s simply a survival tactic for the industry. You can only fit so many people in the lifeboats; women and children get dibs.

The result is a slew of ultra-talented writers who are unable to find homes for their work within the typical channels. As the stigma of self-publishing weakens, and the appeal of greater profit shares grows, more and more of these bards are taking matters into their own hands. So why not read them? In another time and place, these are the books that would have been picked up by the Random Houses and Simon & Schusters of the world. The authors are serious writers, many of whom work with private editors and book doctors, writing groups, teachers, and literary-minded friends to polish their prose until it reaches a standard that readers expect. They know their craft, and they’re not messing around. Great writers can click the “publish” button just as easily as terrible writers.

The current state of the literary world is such that, no matter where you shop for books or how those books are being published, some effort is required from the reader in order to weed out the undesirables. If you want mindless bubblegum pop literature, that’s certainly not hard to find; feel free to ignore anything with a thought-provoking synopsis. If you want something meaty and layered, with complex characters and an engrossing plot–those are out there, too. In any genre, any sub-genre, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or that weird dusty shelf in the corner where the books defy categorization, there is something to satisfy everyone. I promise you can find whatever it is that you’re looking for. It just might not be where you expected.

So here’s my final proposition: read the books that interest you. If you love them, recommend them to friends. Write Amazon reviews. Tweet about them. Do whatever it is that you do when you come across a piece of literature that you enjoy. Don’t give a damn about how that literature made its way from the author’s computer to your eyeballs. Just be grateful it found its way.

And if you’re a writer? Choose the path that makes sense for your work. Do what works for you, and try to do it as well as you possibly can.

What are your favorite self-published books?
Send me your recommendations in the comments!