People now spend so much time on Twitter and Facebook reading short blurbs (or else they are on their cell phones texting friends) that I sometimes wonder whether we still have the patience and attention span to read something actually book-length. I was so excited a couple of years ago when the first "Twilight" movie came out because my friends told me that the movie was based on several Young Adult novels written by Stefanie Meyer and that everyone was reading them -- teenage girls, adult women, even men -- everyone was getting hooked on these books! In fact, when I saw the first commercial advertising the "Twilight" movie, announcing that the movie was based on the "popular series," I assumed they were talking about a teen television series I hadn't heard about, not a BOOK!
Even the story behind Stefanie Meyer's creation of the "Twilight" series is an exciting one. She wasn't a magazine editor or journalist who had concocted a book idea that she thought was going to make her a lot of money. She was a mom of three who woke up one morning from a dream she had of two teenagers, one a girl and one a boy, who were hanging out in a field, and the boy's skin was glittering in the sun because he was a vampire! Meyer became fascinated by this "dream couple" that she just HAD to write about them. When she finished the first novel in the series, she sent out about ten query letters to agents and got rejection letters back from all of them except for one, and that particular agent got her the publishing deal to release her "Twilight" Series. The huge market success of both the books and the movies showed me that indeed people of all ages could become excited about reading again, and that they were indeed still reading books.
But Meyer's books are about vampires, and vampires are hugely popular in our culture. The recent success of the HBO Series "True Blood" can attest to that fact. What about literary novels? Books that are about regular people having regular problems but in made-up scenarios, with fake backgrounds and made-up friends? With the average television viewer being more obsessed with Reality TV than with dramas and comedies that require writers to give life to made-up characters, is anyone interested in reading books that can't be placed into a particular genre?
It reminds me of the lead character, Miles, in that huge sleeper hit movie "Sideways" that came out a few years ago. Miles is a fiction writer of a literary novel that his agent gets really close to selling to a major publisher. He is so excited about FINALLY getting published after toiling over this manuscript for years, only to have his agent call him up and tell him that she has to give up on the sale of his book. She tells him that it doesn't matter how well-written a book is anymore, the only thing that matters to the publisher is how they can market the book in their advertising campaign. She tells Miles that they need to know how to label his book, and they just don't know what category to put his book in. It is a book about a made-up character who goes through all sorts of scenarios, but it is something that any of us could have gone through. So his agent rejects him. Miles is devastated. Someone in the movie asks him what he is going to do now, and Miles responds, "It's back to the old drawing board. I guess."
"Sideways" ends without us knowing what Miles will do with his manuscript next. Maybe he decides to self-publish it. He'll be in good company if he does: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, and even John Grisham all self-published their own novels early in their careers. So even though the publishing industry has obviously been hit as hard by the downturn in our economy as every other industry has, good books will always still be published either by traditional publishing companies or by the authors themselves. But the question still remains: Will people read them? My question was recently answered on my way home from work the other day. I happened to open my eyes from my usual nap, and it seemed that almost every person around me was reading. They weren't reading the daily newspaper or a glossy magazine, they were reading their KINDLES! The new electronic device that stores thousands upon thousands of book-length novels digitally. You can pick a new book to read or an old book, but there are tons of books that you can access with your Kindle, and people are reading them. So it is true, people are still reading books, and not all of these books are about sparkly vampires!