A heartbreaking find:
A recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts found that 53 percent of Americans surveyed hadn’t read a book in the previous year.
… I’m sorry, WHAT?
For someone like me, that’s like saying, “Hmm, I think I saw the sun twelve months ago.” I mean, I may not have as much time to read as I used to, but I don’t think a single year of my life has gone by without my reading at least 1 book.
The source of that alarming, disheartening, perchance dream-crushing information is “You’re an Author? Me Too!”, a recent essay in the New York Times. It’s actually more about the various methods of self-publishing (including blogging) and what affect that is having on modern readers and writers.
In short, everyone has a story — and everyone wants to tell it. Fewer people may be reading, but everywhere you turn, Americans are sounding their barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world, as good old Walt Whitman, himself a self-published author, once put it.
So, excess of supply, shortage of demand? Um, I know my economics teacher quit one month into the semester, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing.
“American literature has never been deeper and stronger and more various than it is now,” McGurl said in an e-mail message. Still, he added, “one could put that more pessimistically: given the manifold distractions of modern life, we now have more great writers working in the United States than anyone has the time or inclination to read.”
McGurl (McGirl?) agrees. And he’s just thinking about the US!
This is the part where I go panic.
How do people like J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown break through the crowd and gain such worldwide readership? I don’t know. I mean, I love Harry Potter as much as the next 12-year-old person, but I read it as a reader, not as a writer looking for insight. (Excuse to re-read? I think so!)
The truth is, the drop in reading is kind of scary for someone who hopes to make a living off writing. And maybe it’s just a bad time for the industry right now, maybe it’ll bounce back. But the fact is, this is my time. This is when I’m trying to make my move. And now it feels like I’m not just swimming out into intimidating open waters, I’m fighting an undertow that’s threatening to suck me down to the very bottom of the sea.
Did I mention this is terrifying? (Did I mention I nearly drowned in Valencia once? I am not a swimmer!)
Of course this comes when I am on the brink of making a very big, very risky decision in my life. I won’t regret it no matter what happens (see: subtitle in the current masthead) but I sure wish I could have a little more reassurance than this…