Over the summer, I was a literary streetwalker. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Or maybe it is, depending on whether you’re buying what I’m selling.
I’ve been part of the Authors Under the Awning program at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, IL. Once a week all summer long, mystery writers hang out in front of the bookstore, talking about books to whoever passes by. One of my frequent partners in crime is writer Sue Myers, who might be one of the ballsiest ladies I’ve ever met.
“HEY, DO YOU LIKE TO READ MYSTERIES?” she shouts at a girl 20 feet away. Granted, Sue is deaf in one ear, but her volume and engaging nature is impressive by any standard.
“Sorry, I don’t read,” the girl says, walking away with her face already buried in her cell phone.
Sue and I gape, open-mouthed, at each other. The girl doesn’t read? What does that even mean?
Sure, I’ve seen the infographics…You probably have too.
And the countless articles:
Huffington Post in 2013: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/07/american-read-book-poll_n_4045937.html
Okay, maybe it’s true.
But there’s a counter argument to make here. Look at this:
Aside from the fact that I’m uncomfortable with their use of the word “penetration,” the fact is, some people are reading. We’re just asking the wrong question. No, they don’t want to sit down with a book. They want something dynamic and mobile, like Twitter or Facebook.
So when the girl walks by again, on her way to the Brown Cow ice cream shop a few doors down, her face still buried in her smartphone, I say, “What do you mean, you don’t read? You’re reading right now.”
And she’s embarrassed, because somehow, I’ve acquired the skill of being able to fluster other people (which is a weird topic for another time).
She says, “Yeah, I guess so, but that’s different.” Then she admits to having ebooks on her phone.
“An ebook is a book,” I tell her, and she shrugs because I’m totally nagging her, which is not really the way to get her to talk to me, but I can’t drop it now. I end up giving the poor kid my ebook info before she flees down the sidewalk.
So people are reading, but they’re calling it something else. They’re not recognizing the fact that they read every day. Every scrolling headline on a webpage, every Facebook status, every BuzzFeed article, every ebook…
Maybe it’s not Tolstoy, unless you’re talking to a hipster or a person who wants to ride the bus for free. Maybe it’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight—which, incidentally, I will never mock you for reading—or Harry Potter, because I know how many people started feeling like they were reading again because of those very books. And the more people who buy books, the better it is for me.
But for whatever reason, people are not admitting that they’re reading.
Or realizing that they are.
I’m willing to concede a point. Most of us have information overload. Every frickin’ flashing thing has words on it. Instructions. Headlines. Dashboards. Public walkways, airports, restrooms, webpages. And heaven forbid you work at a desk all day long, reading…stuff. How many words do you think you read in a day? I’m willing to bet, more than breaths you take or beats of your heart. Too many to count.
The question is, am I, as a writer, competing with these flashing ads and billboards for a finite amount of space in your daily word consumption limit? Is it up to me to make my words even better, even more entertaining so that they’re worth your while?
TL; DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
Make good words; people are still reading.
I write totally consumable, humorous mysteries. Like a bag of chips. Try one.