A conversation I was having with a publisher last week, went off topic (after we’d reached an agreement about the client in question, of course) when we started discussing vacations and vacation reading. One thing leading to another as it does, we began to reminisce about the days when the publication of a big book was an EVENT and how rare a thing that is these days when Kim Kardashian’s latest naked selfie breaks the internet every 4.5 days (yawn!), Donald Trump opens his yap and the news cycle is hijacked to the exclusion of anything else, iPhones, tablets, FireTV sticks, and watches that text and send e-mail keep our attention buzzing from one landing spot to another like a drunken fruit fly.
Not to sound like a crotchety old lady but I remember when books made headlines and created the kind of anticipation blockbuster movies can still sometimes drum up (I’m there for the next James Bond film…just sayin’). Sure, not so long ago the Harry Potter titles were doing just that but it’s been a while since a book was not only buzzed about but read by everyone immediately upon publication and then discussed ad nauseum everywhere you went. (I don’t count the “new” Harper Lee since, personally, I consider that a cynical, somewhat soulless publishing move that has more in common with the Kardashian publicity machine than the event books I remember fondly and whose success was usually more predicated on their content than the marketing behind them.)
Is all of this due to the fact that there’s too much competition for our ever more fragmented attention spans or is it that we are slowly losing the ability to commit to a reading experience and the subsequent processing of that experience that involves discussion, debate, criticism, etc.? Have the Buzzfeed book lists taken the place of the lively conversations about important titles that added something to the culture and our understanding of the world?
On a less cranky note, I’m reading The Martian right now and in the past two weeks have spoken to six people in vastly different contexts and in a serendipitous fashion, about the book. This, combined with the rise in print sales and the fact that readers are looking for what the publisher I was speaking with called “the physical connection” we experience when reading hardcovers or paperbacks makes me hopeful that the big event book is not totally a thing of the past.