The Best and Worst of the Best and Worst of 2009: The Book is Dead. Long Live the Book.

"I mean....Does it have to be so depressing?"

This year has given me a few interesting and substantial changes in my life.  The most meaningful one, which is the constant blessing and the constant curse, is my job at the book store.  I got this job because my teaching part time pay check was only thick enough to pay my rent.  I soon realized I had to eat food as well.  So, I deal with books.  And I don’t deal with books in a very cool, happy way.  I deal with books in a dirty, not fun way.  I deal with them as if they were live stock that needed to be herded.  What I find increasingly interesting are two facts that I see every day I work there.  1.  People read books.  2.  The books that people read are horrible.  These two pieces of information rule the publishing world.  People are reading again.  And when I say “Again” I mean they never stopped.  But people aren’t reading good books.  Some are.  The other day I sold a few copies of “The Road”, which warmed me.  But most people are reading bad Conservative tripe, really bad conservative tripe, romance, mystery books or cook books.  Fiction, my passion, is over there to the left.  You see all that dust?  It is over there.  Since people read the bad stuff, then publishers buy and promote the bad stuff.  They’ll print a fiction book if, maybe, a movie is coming out with it.  If I sell another Time Travelers Wife, there will be murders. But we have only ourselves to blame.

I like the book store job because it puts my field into perspective.  I went to graduate school to learn how to write novels and to learn how to teach writing.  I now see, from working at a book store, that publishing a novel from a mainstream publishing house is possible, but extremely difficult.  People aren’t reading literary fiction.  The people who do are few and far between, and they aren’t demanding new literary fiction because there is plenty of old literary fiction that they haven’t read yet.  I’m surprisingly fine with that.  But I don’t think that literary agents or publishers truly care about the fiction world, or are concerned with it beyond the aspects of teen fiction, which sells in bulk.  We live in a Market based system and, if the Market doesn’t want it, there is no reason to provide it.  Expect one.  The Market is full of morons.  And these morons wouldn’t know a good book if you handed it to them.  I have handed a good book to them.

“What is it about?” They’ve asked, looking at The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.

“Death and the problems associated with coming to terms with Death’s inevitabilty.”

And they look at me.

“Can you recommend anything a bit happier?”

That is the Market.


8 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of the Best and Worst of 2009: The Book is Dead. Long Live the Book.

  1. I guess at least people are reading. The way I see it, it’s impossible to say what’s good and what’s bad anymore. Look at the people who are getting into writing programs. And look at the shit they bring it that make some people weep and others question our career choices. Subjectivity and political correctness took over. The Time Traveler’s Wife–good story written poorly. It’s not about craft anymore, it’s about entertainment. Add a few strange punctuation marks and a few spaces on the page and you can call it a lyric essay and all the sudden it’s glorious, praised in a workshop. Without the punctuation and spaces, it would be shit. “Artistic choice,” they say. “The spaces say more than what I could write,” they say. “Lazy,” I say.

    Good is dead. Books are alive.

    I miss you.

  2. Someday I want to hand off my fabulous customers to you just so you can get excited about selling good books again.

    And while I agree that the Market only looks for books that will sell, which so often are pieces of crap, when has the public ever really gravitated toward good literature on a consistent basis? Look at Penny Dreadfuls and Dime Novels, genres so widespread and so awful they earned their own names! And that was 150 years ago. Good literature existed then, exists now, and will in the future, the way it always has- as diamonds in the rough, to be searched for and sought after and in the end to endure the test of time. Who cares about the majority of the public? They will only ever be as smart as the lowest common denominator and they, of course, will only ever want to read more “Twilight.”

    Also, for as much as I am not the biggest Oprah fan, the fact that she has a cult following is actually sometimes useful when it comes to making stupid people read good literature. While I don’t agree with all her choices, she has promoted books like “The Road,” “Middlesex” and “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” all of which have been published fairy recently, have won numerous awards, and are exceedingly good. And I’ve witnessed first-hand exactly how many people come streaming in looking for the new Oprah selection.

    So maybe the solution is getting more celebrities to endorse better books. Or maybe it is to just resign yourself to a lot of stupid people and instead focus on the few, but enthusiastic, readers that are always looking for (and asking for) another really fabulous book.

    • I guess I’m looking at the Quantity of some people and not the Quality. This could be true and I should adjust. Also, I’m drunk when I’m typing this.

  3. Eep.

    “While I don’t agree with all her choices, she has promoted books like “The Road,” “Middlesex” and “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” all of which have been published FAIRLY recently, have won numerous awards, and are exceedingly good.”

    Stupid spell check.

  4. It also kinda bums me out about how reading has become semi-taboo in some social circles. I’ve got an alright amount of books (30-40) on a shelf in my room and people are consistently saying shit like “oh man, you read?” or “damn that’s alot of books.” which leads me to think that either A) my friends think alot less of me than i thought or B) reading is becoming significantly less common outside of text books.

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