A post last week by one of the editors I follow is still rattling inside my brain. It went something like: If only there were more people interested in good books. My writers work so hard and ultimately they’re read by so few. I heard similar things when I worked in a bookstore. Stuff like: There should be more readers who appreciate fine books. The bookstore struggled financially, yet the fiction buyer there refused to stock romance. Why? They’re not “good” books. This type of thinking is often at the heart of the dire predictions about how ebooks will annihilate everything. If those fancy devices have flashing gizmos and video games on them, who will ever read “serious” fiction?
If people aren’t reading today, which is debatable, let’s not blame the readers themselves or the gadgets they use. How about we blame the books? Yes, some classic fiction can be a tough, yet rewarding read, but that fiction needs to speak across decades, if not centuries. Books today should be produced for a contemporary audience, one that multitasks and has cell phones and videos available on demand. For kid’s literature in particular, books need to fit nicely in between bouts of texting. Books need to be written with all this in mind, not wish that it was 1930 again. And books that speak to contemporary readers, particularly kids, can both inspire in their own right and pave the way for the likes of Dickens or Tolstoy or Melville.
While sales often don’t indicate quality, there’s no question that there’s lots of great fiction out there–some of it even romance–that’s written, bought, and read today. Books like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and The Invention of Hugo Cabret go one step further, bridging the gap between the visual and the word on the page. And they sell quite nicely. What’s wrong with readers today? Nothing. If there’s a problem at all, it’s with the books.