Friday, January 23, 2009

WSJ: "The Triumph of the Readers"

During dark moments, I find myself wondering if it’s foolish to blog about my trio of passions. After all, our society prefers images instead of words, concerns itself with sound bites rather than stories and seems to think that "genre" is a term reserved solely for the French. (Tellingly, these bleak times typically descend after consuming too much talk radio or cable news.) But encouragements come, the most recent being a Wall Street Journal article by author Ann Patchett entitled “The Triumph of the Readers." Excerpts:

I’ve just come in from a meeting of the Nashville Public Library Foundation Board (of which I am a dutiful member) and after sitting through the dismal report on the state of our endowment, the conversation turned to more positive news: the use of the library computers is way up since people have been filling out more online job applications, the puppet truck is enjoying high levels of popularity, the after-school program for teens is thriving. "But listen to this," our excited director of libraries, Donna Nicely, tells us, "according to our survey, patrons say the main reason they're coming to the library is for books! We have to get the word out. It isn't over. People still want to read!"
In the rest, Patchett discusses the surprising demographics of reading, the tenacity of the literate, bad fiction’s usefulness, and how to get friends and family hooked on books. Click here to read the whole thing.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
Vardhana)

6 comments:

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Interesting conjunction genre-fiction aficionado with a preference of words over images.

Generally, genre fiction seems to me to be all about the images--albeit images evoked through words. Few people complain about the fact that The Big Sleep has an incomprehensible plot (Chandler himself couldn't be bothered to "worry and fret about who killed who.") That's because the plot (words, abstract thought) is secondary to the heart-wrenching images of death, love, honor, corruption and apathy.

One could argue that all atmospheric genre fiction--fantasy, space opera, film noir, &c. is useful for its ability to provide beautiful/striking/vivid images that help its readers to think about the world.

On the other hand, it would explain your penchant for solid SF, which is the most textual (rational, meaning-related) of genre fiction genres.

Loren Eaton said...

Generally, genre fiction seems to me to be all about the images--albeit images evoked through words.

I think it's the "images evoked through words" part that I would key in on. I don't mind at all genre works that are "visual" in their style. (One could argue that this is Neuromancer's primary draw. It's right there in the first sentence: The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.) I'm concerned, though, that the overconsumption of visual media is causing people to become functionally illiterate. They can read, but they don't. This saddens me. Even I find it harder to focus on a single thing for an extended period than I did while in college. Genre fiction is fun and sometimes thematically profound, and it keeps people reading.

Now with my point elucidated and my concerns aired, I'm going to flaunt both by watching Slumdog Millionaire tonight. Preferences aside, a good narrative is a good narrative.

samuel said...

Fascinating stuff. I can see your blog is going to have to be in my circuit.

Loren Eaton said...

Thank you, sir! You're far too kind.

ollwen said...

Interesting piece. I can only hope that our culture is actually rebounding from a decline. I think Patchett's bias shows through in the degree that she treats reading in and of itself as a morally positive activity. "I am a firm believer in the fact that it isn't so much what you read, it's that you read." I read somewhere (or perhaps heard in a podcast) to be as careful of the books you read as the friends you keep, because they can influence you in much the same way.

Yet there's something to be said for keeping company with some of the great characters of stories, or the way a work allows us to 'keep company' with the author.

Loren Eaton said...

I think Patchett's bias shows through in the degree that she treats reading in and of itself as a morally positive activity.

Agreed. Although I like genre fiction and pulp, I'll be the first to say that there's stuff out there that's better left untouched, whether it gets people reading or not. Of course, Patchett is an author, and if authors are going to eat they need people reading their stuff ...