Into the ocean

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.

Seriously, people?

[sigh]

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…

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5 Comments

  1. m

    To be honest, I may turn out to be one of those people soon. I read a lot, but I read for my profession. That doesn’t involve leisure reading (including novels). Even if I would read a book, it’s not for pleasure. It may just be a reflection of the world getting faster, people getting busier, and people only wanting escapist works when they can read. At least that’s the way I see it.

    Good luck with decisions.

  2. Aisha

    You know, I made that realization once (more supply than demand with writing), but I thought maybe I was wrong. Guess I was on to something..
    And really, out of all the people I know, you’re one of the few that reads books for leisure on a semi-regular basis.
    (Although I have read a book in the past year… but does it count if it was written by a former Spice Girl? lol. It was a great read though, I can’t remember the last time I read something with that much voracity. Occasionally I’ll bring a book with me if I know I’ll be waiting around somewhere.)
    Anyway, it is pretty harrowing, isn’t it? But, if you enjoy writing then keep doing it. Maybe you’ll never be able to make a living off of it (hopefully you will), but that shouldn’t stop you from doing what you love at least part-time.

  3. @m: What about Paulo Coelho? You introduced me! I dunno, you seem like the type that, even if you (had to) give it up for a while, would eventually find your way back to reading. But I could be wrong…

    Thanks for the luck. :)

    @Aisha: I think any book counts, to be honest. And thanks, I think you’re right: if it’s what I love, I’ve got to do it. And hopefully it’ll work out.

  4. @diane: Yeah, I was just in a B&N tonight, but I guess I like all the options. (Ironic, given my post above.) I just want to be on those tables near the front, you know? ;P

  5. after taking a leave of absence, i’ve definitely been reading more books that i actually enjoy reading (as opposed to boring ass journal articles). i think there are definitely way too many books out there. everytime i walk into barnes and noble (or any other book store), i’m overwhelmed by the options. but i think that’s what defines our current predicament: too many options!

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