“Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”
I couldn’t resist quoting Helen Lovejoy; partly because it’s also the title of my latest publication to appear in the mail (yay) but also because of this bizarre advertisement James Patterson placed in the New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly recently. First, with all the money he has Patterson couldn’t hire a graphic designer to make this look good? How many fonts are there? And the book list, too: it’s as if he took random names off the shelf.
Second, Patterson’s “factory” writing is a soul-less machine process that I have no interest in “saving” or promoting. This is like the head of some fast food chain saying “We must save fine French cuisine!” Books, by the way? Not in need of saving — in fact, coming out in record numbers. There have never been more readers and writers in the *world* thanks to digital publishing. This is a good and bad thing, of course — but it is a fact. Good: because the genuinely original authors those conglomerates would never have the slightest interest in publishing, can get published. Bad: so can every other eejit, talented or not. Wading through the dreck has never been a greater challenge. Good reviewers must be our salvation, as well as small presses, who build reputations on carefully selecting the works they publish. If James Patterson is advocating the downfall of capitalism, I’d join him. I suspect he’s not.
Third, libraries are indeed something that needs to be supported by our government(s) but publishing conglomerates are not. Lots of authors are helping to support local libraries. Libraries are very different from large conglomerates who actively pursue brands like Patterson — to their own peril! Libraries are a public good. They should be supported by those who are fortunate enough not to rely on them for all their reading, information and internet access — just as those who are wealthy should do their part to support public goods like police, fire/rescue service, roads, etc. through taxes.
I haven’t thought about it but I’m sure there are things that can be done. There might be tax breaks, there might be limitations on the monopolies in the book business. We haven’t gotten into laws that should or shouldn’t be done in terms of the internet. I’m not sure what needs to happen, but right now, nothing’s happening.
Mr Patterson needs to get on social media. That would immediately cure him of the belief that “nothing’s happening”! The paternalistic assumptions abound: “I think it’d be a cool and doable thing if we encouraged everybody in the country — it won’t be everybody — to pick a book they loved and give it to a stranger.” How very Antoinette-ish of him, assuming that people don’t read because they haven’t been given a book before (“What’s this thing?! I never seen one of those before!”). Great, too, assuming your tastes match with everyone else’s — and that gift of the book comes with the time to read it, too. Reading has always been an elite activity: those with the leisure and know-how. That elite has grown significantly, but for many there will always be activities that draw their time that aren’t reading.
Even in the past when we didn’t have films, television, video games, internet and bear-baiting, readers were a small subset of the public. Think of the caricature of Mary Bennet: the intrepid reader constantly with a nose in a book is a figure of fun. Writers sometimes forget that the rest of the world doesn’t much care about the thing that consumes our every waking thought: books.
If you want to save writers, buy their books.
Chances are we’ll keep writing anyway, but it would be nice.
Best thing I have seen in a long time: German fans discuss The Fall (supposedly — I’ve not tried to figure out yet what they’re really saying). H/t to my sweetie and Marko, not sure who posted first. I laughed so hard. And then I saw this and I couldn’t breathe for laughing. Oh intarwubs, how we love you.