December 3, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Cheer up

(Check out This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.)

Publishing articles these days look very grim. The ’90s set a high bar for book sales, which increased enormously alongside advances, and it’s hard for books to earn out the money that’s poured into them. It’s certainly a hard time to be a writer, a newspaper business, or really, anything in this economy. But I think it’s time to write at least one reasonably cheery post about The State Of Things. This is a great moment in time to be a reader.

1) In this country, there are more people reading and writing than ever before.

2) You can read for free, thanks to the internet. What was once available only to the upper classes is available to the masses (if we consider “the masses” to be people who can afford or access computers).

3) There is more available to read online than you could read in your lifetime. The amount of content available online is constantly expanding.

4) It’s easier than ever to locate a book you’re trying to purchase, or to subscribe to a literary magazine. If a magazine catches your interest, you can purchase back issues through its website.

5) If you’re looking for a book that is out of print, you’re in luck: Google is making millions of books available to you that you could not have accessed before.

6) You can connect with writers, readers, publishers, small bookstore owners, and other people who just really like books through social networking sites like GoodReads and blogs just like this one.

7) If you are an author who is interested in engaging with a small, devoted audience, you’re in luck: the average blog has about seven regular visitors, and most people seem to like it that way. It is easier than ever before to find people within a niche market. (You can also create plug-ins when you come up with ways you think might be cool for people to find new writing.)

8) It is easy to gain context and understanding of the things you read. If something is mentioned that you don’t fully understand, Wikipedia can provide you with a broad overview and direct you to sites with more in depth research. Google can provide you with billions of results in less than a second. The OED online, which is constantly updated, can provide you with everything you want to know about any word you can think of (if it can’t, you can always submit!), and other online dictionaries will give you a whole lot for absolutely no cost. Words are constantly evolving, and encyclopedias and dictionaries are finally able to add new layers of meaning shortly after they’re recorded.

9) There are book recommendations to be found every day on blogs and online booksellers.

10) Publishers are working hard every minute to make your reading experience as rich and convenient as they possibly can. Even if Apple isn’t making a reading device at this moment, publishers are already working to create books with audio and video technology. If you think these technologies are distracting, you can get a Sony Reader, a Kindle, or a dozen other small devices that will provide you with text and little more. If you want to read your books on paper, publishers are making sure that each edition is beautifully produced, and has a scintillating cover.

Bonus: if you’re unemployed, or thinking of going back to graduate school to kill time during the recession, this is the perfect moment for you to pick up that book you always meant to pick up.

The Novel has only been the standard for literature for a couple hundred years: a relatively new technology. I haven’t heard many people mourning the death of the epic poem. But then, we may have lost something when verbal storytelling was converted to writing. Reading is becoming more versatile; our definition of literacy is expanding. Words are available in an extraordinary number of forms. This is great news for anyone who can’t see, or wants all books available in large fonts, or wants to hear the audio version of a book while she drives, or wants to be able to look up words and related material and other books by a specific author as she becomes more engaged in what she reads. Which means, I hope, everybody who reads.