Thursday, December 27, 2007

Most Literate Cities

I hope I have readers who are Twins fans. Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Twin Cities, are one and three, respectively, on the latest "Most Literate Cities" survey.

But reading is declining overall, and that's a concern I share with the surveyers. "We're getting higher and higher educational attainment levels, and at the same time we're getting fewer and fewer behaviors (that reflect) what we think educated people ought to do," said researcher Jack Miller, who's been conducting this survey for the past five years.

I still maintain that people read a lot. The studies showing how many people skim through Web sites while at work should indicate that. But people are not reading for pleasure, and they may not be retaining well what they read. Another caveat of this story: It seems to point to a decrease in newspaper reading as a sign that reading is declining; it may simply show that people are getting their news from different sources -- the Web in particular.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Young Adult Novels and the Old Adults Who Write Them

According to this article that appeared in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago, I'm too old to be considered to be tolerated for remaining young in my mind. That's ok, since there are enough times that I feel old already. But I suspect few things would make me feel as old as reading a young adult novel.

I've read a couple of them before, but probably not since I was a student teacher. However, I may be wrong, because there seems to be no clear definition of what a YA novel is. The Post article isn't about the age range of YA subjects, rather it's a profile of Nick Hornby, the British novelist who wrote High Fidelity and Fever Pitch. According to his Web site, he's known for being funny, humane, and touching -- though the article seems to point more to a sense of melancholy that runs through his personality. But I'd say a man who has a profoundly autistic son is allowed to be touching and melancholy at times when it suits him.

What I liked most about this article -- which struck me as rare for the Post, though I don't usually read it for its literary reportage -- was that it got to the heart of who Hornby is as a writer and why people enjoy reading him. He said that the characters he likes to write about are "people in very ordinary situations in cities, whose lives get bent out of shape by something kind of big happening to them." Perfect. You've got me hooked! That's what I like to write too. (Well, sometimes the situations get a little out of the ordinary.)

The article is about Hornby's entree into the YA field, with his new book Slam. While some of his creative team feel it should have been marketed to the adult reading public (where it would sell better), Hornby seems pleased at the opportunity to do something new.

Hornby was inspired to write in part by the early works of Roddy Doyle, who wrote The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van. But his approach to YA novels appears to have been changed by his discovering David Almond and the late Robert Cormier. (I'll admit they're both news to me.)

Slam -- and indeed, this article -- are unique, in that they show that there are still writers and publishers willing to do something different, something daring, to cultivate new readership. I'm pleased to see it, and I hope there are more examples to call attention to in the future.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Read for Fun, America!

I meant to write about this weeks ago, but I was having too much fun reading other things. Back in November there was an article in the New York Times about how fewer people are reading for pleasure. It was based on a National Endowment for the Arts study. It got me thinking: What does this say about the state of publishing?

I believe that lots of people read for fun. I see it on the train every work day. But I'm also seeing a lot more people using their portable DVD players, and it seems every other person has iPod buds sticking out of their ears. And of course, there are several masochists who do work on the train (full disclosure: I do too, sometimes, but I don't enjoy it).

Books and a train commute are a perfect combination, so why aren't more people reading? Perhaps it's because so many books out there suck. A possibility, at least. But I suspect it's because the marketing doesn't know how to build or develop an audience -- especially for mid-list writers. Let's face it, it's easy to publicize a Stephen King novel. He's got years of successful novels under his belt and has connected wiht his audience better than any writer I know of. But why don't more people know about Christopher Moore? He's funny, he's entertaining, he's occasionally irreverant. Lord knows how many people are fans of his type of story, but it's a lot. This past year, when he released You Suck, the book was reviewed by the Times. Yet, there aren't enough people who know about him. I mention his name to other voracious readers, and they've never heard of him; when they read him, they like him.

One of the reasons I created this blog was to promote writers I like (of course, no one reads this either, so there you go!). I don't mean promote in the marketing sense; lord knows I'm no marketer.

Ultimately, I hope to create an audience for my books, which I think people will enjoy and believe they'll enjoy the subsequent books I produce. I'm sure this is naive, but I'm looking forward to speaking with readers, even if they challenge me to justify scenes or characters or a story's premise. The author is the best marketer for his or her work, but authors need publicists and strong editors and a team of professionals to make things sing. That's one of the reasons why publishers get the percentage of sales that they get; they're paying for the risk and for the overhead.

As readers, we don't have to worry about all that. We just have to read and enjoy. So read for fun, America! Use the imagination that you've been blessed with!

And if you happen to be on my blog, let me know what you've been reading and why. I'll share it with others. Let's get more people reading!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Blast! Foiled Again!

Well, I didn't get anywhere near where I wanted to go with my NaNoWriMo novel. A bit better than 10 percent. Shabby, definitely shabby.

I'll do better next year. For one thing, I'll go in with a plan; this year, I jumped in without any prior thought to doing it.

While I joined the competition with nothing more than a stray idea inspired by my wife, I exit November with more ideas for the future. I've contacted a couple other writers and I might even venture into a different genre yet again. Not exactly virgin territory, but something I've only written in torrid fluorishes.

So, now it is December: a month of revision and resolution. I won't post my New Year's Resolutions here. That's no one else's business. But rest assured, dear readers (both of you), I will advance my writing career in 2008. A decision will be made about my first novel -- hopefully, an agent or other publishing representative will recognize its (and my) potential -- or I'll find another way to get it out into the world.

The people who've read it have liked it and offered me excellent recommendations for how to improve it. So I believe I'm on the right path.

I hope all of you out there are too.