In connection with John McFetridge's excellent thread about who is reading our books, it might be interesting that GALLEY CAT today has a short report from a BEA event that involved a publisher-sponsored panel of authors discussing just this sort of thing. I take it from the brief summary that the three authors had little faith in their readership.
One of them stated, "All of us are writing for college-educated middle-aged white women." (A group that is predictably going to die out within the foreseeable future and seems to hang out in libraries anyway). Another complained that her comment about reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald caused a young woman to say, "I haven't read any of those Russian authors." And the third man on the panel enthused that authors were as inspired and brilliant as ever in spite of the declining literacy rates.

Clearly there is a problem. People don't like to read. In my experience as a teacher of literature that usually means they don't understand the vocabulary. It's a problem that writers try to overcome by appealing to the lowest common denominator (the young woman who thinks Hemingway is a Russian). The rationale seems to be: let's get the kids to read. It doesn't really matter about content and style, or anything brainy. If they're reading, that's the main thing.

Mind you, the three authors were literary fiction folk, but apparently even genre has to be dumbed down these day to sell.

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This doesn't worry me as much as it does some others. I think many people will eventually reach the point of overload, and they'll look for a quiet diversion that will operate on their schedule, not the other way around. So they'll read more.
That's a good point. Unfortunately, the better technology gets at keeping us in touch, the more isolated we become. Nowadays, you can do pretty much any interaction you need to do with someone, be it business or whatever, without ever actually seeing that person.

I think Natsume Soseki put it best (in 1914 no less) in his novel Kokoro when one of his characters says: "You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves."
Literary fiction is just another genre.

Fans and writers of every genre are convinced that their fans are the most intelligent fans around.

So of course a fan of literary fiction is going to say readers of literary fiction are more discerning and more demanding.
Oh,golly! John, we've actually agreed on a lot of common points. But I will politely disagree with you on this one point; books present to the reader a much richer use of their imagination than any movie has ever accomplished. No movie has ever matched the rich senusal feeling, the imagination, I experienced when I read Fairwell. My Lovely the first time. A movie is visual. That's it. No more than that; no less than that. But a great book stimulates ALL of the senses. And when all of the senses are stimulated, that's when the imagination goes into overdrive.

That's why we are, for the most part, so disappointed when we read a book and then go see the movie version. We've read the book--developed a mental image of all the major and minor componets---felt each scene with all of our senses---and then have it destroyed by someone else' interpretations when we see the movie.

For me, and this is just for me, the two greatest genres to truly paint the human equation is crime genre and Sci/fi-fantasy. Harder to do in fantasy, I grant you. But the potential is there.

As to what our public schools do to kill the desire to read in our kids. Being an old junior high/high school English/History teacher, I can tell you this mandate (actually, a paranoria) to teach to some magic test which, if passed in a blaze of glory, will prove to one and all our kids are not falling behind in keeping up with the rest of the world is the problem. Teachers today teach to have kids pass tests. They cannot . . . are not allowed . . . to teach kids the idea that learning and reading are enjoyable endeavors. We must pass tests. We must meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind. And if it doesn't fit that criteria, then you are a failure.

What bullshit.
If my (occasional) fan mail's any indication, my readers are wicked smart--they're also a pretty diverse group. Which is impressive because there are, like, twenty of them.

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