*or so they want you to think.
Someone over on Absolute Write posted an announcement that Annie Sprinkle’s long-running erotic anthology series, The Best American Erotica, is ending. It seems sales have been dropping, etc. Ms. Sprinkle–whom I respect and admire, just want to get that out of the way–has written a long blog post about her feeling about this, and why she thinks it’s happened.
It’s a good post. But I think it’s wrong. Just like I think those five-times-a-year articles by some AP stringer about how books don’t ever make money anymore and the book industry is collapsing are wrong, and I’m tired of seeing them.
Nobody is denying people might read less now than they once did. And certainly I see things like the recent financial troubles of Borders Bookstores and get nervous. Nobody wants to see bookstores disappear, least of all me.
But I don’t think a lack of reading is necessarily at fault for Borders–I think it’s stores like Sam’s Club or Amazon that create problems for bookstores. I would even go so far as to guess that some people are buying more books now because of the discounts offered by those places.
I have a few problems with Ms. Sprinkle’s post in particular. I certainly don’t appreciate her assertion that modern writers of erotica are simply bandwagon-jumpers with no style. I don’t agree with her that independent bookstores were king in 1993 and it’s their death that has lead to the death of reading, short stories in particular. I’d certainly been to quite a few Barnes & Nobles at that time–in fact, they bought out B. Dalton in 1987 and so went national then. I know that any independent bookstores I went to as a kid were likely used bookstores–we had Waldenbooks and B. Dalton nearby, and that’s where we shopped. Granted I was a kid, but I don’t even remember seeing any independent bookstores anywhere.
I also don’t agree that people no longer discuss books and/or reading. Yes, she’s correct when she says newspapers are shutting down their book review sections, but I think, as I have always thought, that those pages don’t attract attention because they’re not reviewing books people want to read.
All I have to do is look online to see hundreds, if not thousands, of people who care about books and reading. Are we the only ones in the country? Somehow I doubt it. I just think people are buying different books now, and they’re buying them from other places. They’re buying them online. They’re buying ebooks (I absolutely and strongly disagree with her assertion that file-sharing isn’t a threat to authors.)
If anything, I think readers–at least in some genres–have grown more intelligent. Ms. Sprinkle mentions how in the beginning there was a “sense of urgency and movement,of this type of writing being on the edge of social change…” and how that’s missing now.
To which I say, so what? Maybe I don’t want to read erotica With A Message. Maybe I don’t want political or sociological opinions force-fed me when I sit down to read a sexy story. Maybe that’s why collections of erotic romance sell so well–nobody is Making A Statement. Maybe the American public–and the greater world public–is Message Fatigued, and would rather read fun books and enjoy themselves. If we have less leisure time than we used to for reading, is it any wonder we’re choosing lighter books to read?
Yes, the short story seems to be doing the way of the dodobird. But maybe people these days simply like longer works. The assumption that only short stories are truly literary bugs me. Personally, if I’m reading something erotic I like it to be longer. I want to know the characters better. I want a stronger story to go with it. I want to spend some time there. I’m not good at writing short stories and never have been, because to me an erotic short feels a little like a quick anonymous hump in a back alley–over too soon and not as emotionally satisfying as it could have been. I don’t agree that the short story is the foundation of storytelling. That doesn’t mean I never enjoy them or that I think they’re inferior to anything else, it just means I don’t agree they’re the foundation.
Basically, I just don’t agree that the book industry is dying, and I’m tired of being told it is. As long as there are people who read, and pass that on to their children, there will be books.
I agree people are reading less. But maybe they’re enjoying it more. And I absolutely agree that we need to take steps to encourage more people to read. But I’m tired of seeing stories of doom all over the place about how nobody makes a living writing books anymore unless they’re Stephen King, and 99% of books only sell two copies (never mentioning that they’re including textbooks and every self-published book and every academic micropress book about Cow-Tipping in the Eighteenth Century [which I would totally read, btw] in their statistics.)
It may be hard to make a living as a writer, yes–especially depending on your version of “a living”. But I’m tired of reading that it’s impossible so we just shouldn’t try. How many articles do you see about how nobody goes to the doctor anymore, so going to med school is a waste? How nobody goes to see plays so don’t bother acting? Why is it only writers and writing that get picked on with such frequency?
Don’t sell the public short. They’re still reading. At least that’s what I think.