|Is this the fate of the paperback? Perhaps. But E-books aren’t to blame.
I’ve got booze for today’s little discussion. Don’t say “no thanks” just yet, you might find you want it later. Here, Clive will just hold it for you. Me? I’m already hammered, thanks.
Let’s begin, shall we?
Will e-books be the death of the paperback? Are those marvelous little stacks of paper going to be a thing only mentioned in history books a decade from now? Will libraries consist of nothing but computers and comfy chairs, getting rid of those glorious rows and rows of shelves and that awesome musty-mystery smell that only libraries have?
I don’t care.
Yes, you heard me correctly. I don’t care if e-books replace paperbacks. To me it’s not really an issue of paperback vs. digital. While I’ll miss my paperback (I do so love a real book in my bubbly tubby.) and I’ll have difficulty adjusting to an e-reader, I’ll still have something to READ. This never-ending debate over which is better or whether the evil e-book has ruined fiction for millions of readers is kind of retarded when you look at the bigger picture.
Let me elaborate on that. (Did you doubt that I would?) According to a great little blog I read from time to time, The Encyclopedia Britannica Blog
, (I’m a nerd.) at some point around 2010 40 million Americans read at the lowest literacy level. The lowest.
This blog also cites a study done in 2007 that found the percentage of teens who read nothing for pleasure (as in a never check out great YA novel unless forced to) doubled in the 20 year period before the study.
Why are fewer kids interested in books?
Our first finger points at television and movies. Don’t point. It’s rude. Besides, it’s not TV that’s to blame. No really, it’s not. I’m an avid TV and film buff, and I still read voraciously. My generation (I’m 34 if you’re curious.) is in love with books. Most of my friends love to read. Many will pass up television for a good book. We’re not old either. (Unless of course you ask my kids.) We reaped the benefits of the “new” technology of television, the remote control, cable, satellite, on demand, VHS, and eventually DVDs. We are a generation used to the luxury of seeing as story on the screen and a generation that is very addicted to it in many ways. Yet, we still read.
Why? Because as the smart guy writing Britannica’s blog said, a visual image is “neither as functional nor as versatile as text.” He’s right. We read because it allows us to go where we WANT to go in our mind. Television and film show us a story the way some director or producer or whatever sees it. With a book, we can imagine anything we wish.
So stop blaming television.
True, video does play a small role in the demise of basic literacy skills. I’m a freelance writer. This means I write content for various clients online. Some of these clients are content mills, others are news sources, and a couple of them are e-zines. Recently, many freelance writers have noticed a general shift in most (if not all) of these mediums to video supported by text. What does that mean? It means that instead of WRITING the content, we’re being asked to VIDEO the content and add just a few lines of text beneath. Those of us without the ability to do that…see ya later.
This is what prompted me to mull over the demise of books and the written word in general. What the hell are we doing, folks?
Here’s the real problem as I see it.
The other day as I waited for my kids to come out of the school (we’re not allowed to go inside, but that’s another rant for another day) I shot the shit with a couple of other moms. One of them mentioned that her oldest (14) daughter left her a note the other day. She deciphered it after a few minutes and shook her head. Over a period of a few days she realized that her 7 year old had better literacy (as in reading, spelling) skills than her 14 year old. Both girls have excellent grades, but the older child couldn’t spell literacy if her life depended on it. She used to be able to, but somehow she’d forgotten. This mom worried that her youngest would eventually write notes for her that she’d need the CIA to decode as well.
This is a sad, sad thing.
And this seemingly senseless trend where shit writing is rewarded (I won’t name names) with bestseller status and instant fame, is related to all of this too. Why? Consider you’ve never read a good writer. Imagine never picking up King, Rowling, Vonnegut, Rice, Palahniuk or Irving. (just a few of my favorites, insert your greats here instead) How would you separate shit from gold? You couldn’t. We’re so damn happy to see a book in anyone’s hands, (particularly kids) that we don’t consider WHAT they’re reading. Many savvy little entrepreneurs realized this long ago. Hello self-publishing explosion. Hello publishers going for the sure bet rather than the skilled writer. Good bye hard work and good books.
In North America, governments spend billions to teach kids to read. And they fail. These literacy programs are excellent. Teachers dedicate many, many hours to implementing them too. No one in these areas is shirking their responsibility in raising good writers and readers in my opinion. But they’re fighting an uphill battle here.
My girls have always been exceptional readers, both spelling and writing very well at early ages. (My oldest could read and write well above grade level in junior kindergarten.) Are they special? Of course they are, but not because of this. The reason that they picked up those skills is because reading has always been a primary focus in my home. There are books everywhere. I’ll buy my kids books any time. It’s the only thing that they know they can ask for and receive without much argument from me. They’ve always seen me with a book in my hand, a book in progress on the table, a book near my bed…books everywhere.
On the other hand, my stepson and a couple of kids I babysit, who are extremely smart kids, struggle to read at their grade level. They can barely spell words that are more than one syllable and they do not pick up a book unless under extreme force. These kids (in my situation anyway) do not come from what we call a “book home”. See the trend?
Yet these kids can navigate the shit out of the Internet. They text, tweet, blog—you name it, they can do it. So what’s the problem? Are these kids just stupid? Not at all.
My theory is that because they’ve grown up in this age of amazing technology, where they can have information and entertainment at the click of a button, they’ve never learned the patience or the focus required to build these literacy skills or to enjoy reading. Think about it. If you are used to punching something into Google, and this is the only way you’ve researched, and someone hands you a book and says “Find this in there”, how agonizing would reading through that book be? I admit, even for a book lover like me, it makes me shudder. I LOVE Google.
But when you have three and four year olds who can text before they can write…
The type of writing necessary for the Internet generation is minimal. “Subliterate” my Britannica friend called it. Emails, texts and tweets require no messing around with proper syntax or spelling. They require no description, no grammar. Only that you convey what you need in as few characters as possible because you’ve got other things to do.
So at least they’re writing and reading something, right? NO! They’re reading nothing. They’re writing nothing. Go take a little jaunt on a few blogs. Go on. Look at all kinds. E-zines, author blogs, forums, etc. Examine the content of the comments. Hell, look at some of the blog posts.
What do you see in a large percentage of posts? Poor grammar? Misspelled words? Punctuation? Exactly. We don’t pay attention to that shit when we’re hammering out a comment or two. Some comments are downright unreadable. Yet, the Internet aficionados can decipher it. We debated this in our forum on Goodreads. It’s a forum for writers and I stand firmly on my decision as a moderator to hold members of that forum, who are supposed to be writers, to refrain from text-speak and to strive to write proper sentences with at least an effort made to spell the words correctly.
Do u no how meny membrs we hav that right coments like ths
This is why I bust my ass to create stories that even the most reluctant reader will enjoy. I know I’m not brilliant. I know I have much to learn. But my goal when I sit down to write is to create a world so vivid, so entertaining, so thought provoking, that the reader who is reading it to pass the time until the UFC TwitChat folks are ready to debate the merits of Griffin’s obviously brilliant fighting style vs Martinez’s heavy-handed skills (don’t ask how I know), is reluctant to put it down. I write to inspire someone else to take a shot at creating something better than I’ve given them.
It’s not about digital vs. paperback. Let’s let the big guys battle that out. We’ll keep writing no matter what format those words are read in. Technology will push forward no matter how loudly we gripe and bitch about it. But if no one is reading…