October 5th, 2006

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

To Book or not to Book, that is the question....

I was just pointed to this particular blog entry, and it seems to me to be symptomatic.

The thing that leaps out at me, in big neon-green letters six foot high, is this:

We are living in an age where the average adult
buys less than two books a year. When 20% of all
new fiction accounts for 80% of all fiction

As a fiction author, and one who KNOWS that she isn't in that 20%, this scares me.

I have always read. I taught myself to read - I don't think I was quite four when I did it - and I have been reading ever since - and what's more I've always read "up", as it were. When I was still reading books in my own mother tongue (i.e. younger than 10, which is when I moved into the English speakign world and never quite looked back), I was reading translated editions of Howard Spring, Pearl Buck, Sigrid Undset (I think "Kristin Lavransdottir" might have been part of what propelled me into my love of the historical novel, and the historical fantasy). When I started reading in ENglish I regressed a little - not because of "Age relevant" reading but because my language abilities were not up to par to begin with, so I started with the early Enid Blytons... but within three years of picking up an English language book I was reading unabridged John Galsworthy, I started with Narnia and went straight to Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, and I was off and running.

I don't know who that "average" adult is, the one who buys less than two books a year. (And by the way that's idiotic. Less than two means one. Or none. Which is it?) Speaking for myself, I sometimes acquire two books a WEEK. And I tend to read two or three at a time. And they range from the new fiction (Hi, matociquala - just got your Carnival to review!) to biographies of people who survived the Cultural Revolution in China. I read. That's what I DO. One of the first places that rdeck and I visited when we boarded our cruise ship was the ship library - and got books out, even though we then got too busy with Alaska and with things to do and being on the run to sit back and read for ours (and even under THOSE circumustances we managed to read, some, even if I didn't get to finish the book that I borrowed from the library).

More than that, I write.

I would like to believe that I write for people who are like me. People who are not those average adults. People who wander into bookshops, like I do, and emerge clutching five new books and a cross-eyed expression of delight on their faces because they've got, you know, NEW BOOKS. I like to believe that such people exist out there, that I am not alone. I am a writer - I write because I need to write, but also in the hopes that somewhere out there people who READ might be holding out for a story.

I'm not sure WHAT I write, precisely - it's not chicklit, that's for sure. It's fantasy, of a sort, but then so is all fiction by definition as far as I am concerned - NONE of it's true and therefore it's all fantasy, thank you very much. I write... stories. Genreless, perhaps. Cross genre. Call it what you will. I write, in the hope that people will read.

I know other people write, and for the same reasons. I am, in fact, just on my way out to a con where I'll be teaching in a day of writing masterclasses, which have 30 students enrolled the last I knew. That tells me that there are others out there who write, want to write, and therefore have to be readers (because I flatly do not believe that anyone who doesn't read could ever WISH to write, and would not do it not well anyway if they tried). There have to be readers out there. There HAVE to.

Otherwise my life, and the life of all of my writerly Tribe, is a sorry waste.

Please tell me it ain't so.