Again, I’m a planet outlier.
Publisher’s Weekly bemoans a 20 percent decline in fiction sales. Only one year out of the past five have sales climbed. Thank Harper Lee’s 2015 book, Go Set a Watchman.
All the reasons for declining fiction sales equal sensible logic:
More competition for entertainment hours and products.
More closings of brick‐and‐mortar stores.
Fewer book reviews.
Shorter attention spans.
Even audiobooks are displacing the printed novel. Mike Shatzkin, a noted publishing industry guru, calls it words‐to‐be‐heard vs. words‐to‐be‐read.
What’s ignored in the worrying noise is the price we’re paying by not reading.
Be it television, video games, the World Wide Web, streaming books, and other entertainment options, we’re actively rewiring both our brains and bodies. Few of us pay attention to the consequences, either short or long‐term.
Writer Maryanne Wolf takes a look in her fascinating (ahem, non-fiction book), Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World.
Wolf cites varying studies that blame the widespread screen explosion for our collapsing attention spans, declining imagination and thinking skills, worsening physical health, and strained relationships.
One of the first studies came out in 1998. Linda Stone, of the Virtual Worlds Group at Microsoft, possessed frightening prescience when she coined the term “continuous partial attention.”
Stone referenced children specifically when she created the term. Twenty years later, she’d no doubt label us adults with the same syndrome.
Tag me guilty, too. But only when I’m not reading a book. In that printed landscape, my attention laser‐focuses to imagine a world only I can see.
Delicious creativity and control! Fun and fulfilling, too!
Yet, these recent books and magazines frighten me about this road we’re on. There seems an almost willful ignorance for behavior and consequences. In confronting these effects, there’s information and messages to share, heed.
Even so, I cross my fingers, remembering what’s happened with music. Printed books could travel a similar road.
Remember LP’s and turntables? They’re back, and popular, for reasons I don’t comprehend. Records over CD or streaming tunes? Clunky equipment over flat, round disks or no plastic at all? Pray tell, why?
Amid my semi‐Luddite questioning, possibility arises.
Once can become twice.
Music now, books next?
Meantime, I read, wait, and check my mailbox.
Shoes inbound promise a coming retro‐revolution.
Our world needs more fiction, published. And read.
A broad can hope.