Sunday, November 30, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
'It'd be absolutely terrifying to be starting out now, to be young and to not have the benefit of years, if not decades, of perspective," Mr. Ross said. "I would have seriously considered leaving book publishing.'
What would he have done instead?
'Law school,' he said. 'Or worse, I would have gotten an MBA.'
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Let me start out with a couple of disclaimers in this the second of my Idea posts. First, most of the time when I have an idea about publishing--a book that should get made, a marketing tactic--I find out that it has already been thought of, possibly long long before. So I can only say that, at the point that I post my Ideas, I have yet to discover any similar, already-in-use practice. Second, many of my ideas involve spending, which I understand is hard to stomach for such a hard-pressed industry. But hey, when do you NOT have to spend money to make money? Anyway, here goes: Idea No. 2, Product Placement
Very occasionally I see a T.V. ad for a book--usually a thriller by someone like James Patterson--and without fail these ads make me cringe. There is just something so unnatural-seeming about it. Partly, I'm sure, because it's so rare, but also because books tend to be separated from the rest of the entertainment world, from the rest of the commercial world. They are older, certainly, than most of it. They are perhaps a little bitter towards their more prosperous companions. And T.V. is so often blamed for the demise of reading that I suppose it is natural that the two should seem like odd bedfellows. I don't propose changing this exactly; books are special, they are. Having ads for books like there are ads for movies would just be weird no matter what. Still, no matter what else they are, books are also a product, so I see nothing wrong with using T.V. and other media to get them out there. The direction that advertising is taking now, with internal product placement as opposed to separate ads, would lend itself well, I think, to advertising books and promoting reading in general. Imagine a character seen carrying a book around, or reading it, or even mentioning it briefly. Whether it is a fictional housewife reading the latest Oprah's bookclub-type book, or a snarky Showtime/HBO character referring to the latest piece of hip lit fiction, a little nod could go a long way. Has anyone checked the sales of Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency since Mad Men started harping on it? By tailoring the advertising this kind of product placement could avoid the stiltedness that some has--"What's that honey?! You're in labor! Let me just text your mom on the new iPhone! It has 674 apps! Look how shiney it is!" [close up of iPhone]. I think marketing folks would have to arrange a sort of barage of placements in various places so people really get the impression that this book is a trendy must read. T.V. and movie spots could be supplemented by covert celebrity endorsements, as with Jennifer Aniston's Smart Water deal, so that society's celebrity obsession would include a literary element. Then, not only will certain books get a boost, but people might get more used to seeing others reading and might come to consider it as a normal or fashionable thing to do in general. It would take finesse to pick the right placement for books, and perhaps to suggest ways that they might be integrated. Certainly this is not someting to do with every book that comes out. But, I think it could work. And maybe publishers could get some sort of discount, what with their products contributing to the greater good of society, and to the substance of many movies and T.V. shows in Hollywood.
Image via perezhilton.com Not sure if Paris is being paid for her endorsement.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
1. Knowledge. Probably the most obvious and universal benefit. Reading exposes you to information. You learn from it. Learning having its own benefits which I won't go into, and which vary depending on what you are learning about. And I'm not just talking about nonfiction here. Although it's not their primary purpose, fiction books manage to convey quite a lot of information. A lifetime of reading them has gained me loads of often shallow and useless, but always interesting info. For example: a barouche is a kind of carriage. Turkeys will stare up into the rain with their mouths open until they drown. Putting the milk in after the tea is poured is more genteel.
2. Entertainment. Also obvious. Yes, kids, Reading is Fun! And unlike other mediums, you can find a book to suit pretty much any entertainment whim any time. Adventure novel, serial killer bio, Austen-esque historical romance, whatever you're in the mood for. Plus, while you're being entertained you also garner a whole host of other benefits, which can't be said of T.V. or movies. Reading is the vitamin-fortified Coco Puffs of the media world, good tasting and good for you. (T.V. is Oreo-Os or something debauched like that. Okay, not all of it, but still.)
3. Improves self-awareness and -understanding. This is one benefit that goes to the heart of my conviction that reading can solve many of the worlds problems. It's become obvious to me that many of the world's problems are caused by the world being abysmally stupid in relation to, or simply unaware of, the world's mental, inner workings. Watch Dr. Phil or American Idol and reflect on how, on a larger scale, that kind of delusion could lead to monomaniacal power-grabbing and war-starting in an official supposedly devoted to Christian values and small government. Reading, especially reading fiction or memoir, presents a model of self-examination and thought, which can then be followed, especially if reading leads to writing, which it certainly encourages and which should maybe be benefit 3.5. One of my pet peeves is when people denigrate reading as being isolationist, so to speak, or disconnected. This is true, but it's not a bad thing. Being constantly outward-focused at the expense of any self-reflection is spiritually impoverishing. Cultivate your gardens, people.
4. Mental Exercise. No matter what you're reading, your brain has to do more and different work than it usually does. If you're reading something you're interested in or enjoy, this work isn't a chore at all, but simply an added benefit. Reading a romance novel instead of watching a sexy movie requires you to use your imagination, make inferences about settings and characters and combine it with what you know and feel to make a complete picture. Nonfiction can lead you down paths of reasoning and logic that you would never encounter in daily life. And so forth.
5. Broadens the mind. I think this is different from gaining knowledge. It's more of an attitude thing. Reading about the experiences of others, even if they're fictional others, and learning about varied situations and places with the sort of increased depth that books offer in contrast to other mediums, can help break down walls of superiority, indifference, or scorn. This requires a certain amount of will--a person could very well choose to read only those books in accordance with his views and experiences. But I think there is something about reading that tends to discourage this limitedness, which leads outwards and upwards. Or something about the human attention span. Reading one thing often leads to another, and though you might end up having gone in a circle sometimes, more often you will have branched out somewhere new.
So that is what I can come up with right now. Idealist, maybe. Not every book will have every one of these benefits, but I think most will contain at least a small proportion of each. Some are obviously geared heavily in one direction, but as I said, one aspect of reading in general is that, once it is adopted as part of your life, even in the smallest way, it snowballs into an ever-increasing influence that can lead to all sorts of books and benefits, no matter the starting point.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I had a little argument with the male members of the fam yesterday. I was trying to talk my brother, who is not a reader, into finding something he'd like to read, or into reading something that I would find for him. My dad, who is a reader, opined that reading wasn't for everyone, and that this was fine. This seems like a fairly innocuous statement, but I was oddly upset, more so than I am when I am confronted, which I very often am, with the fact that so few people read regularly. The other day I was watching something on PBS, I believe it was about fractals, and one of the scientists stated his belief that fractals could solve all the world's problems. I thought this was absurd, but touching. I like it when people are that into their field, when they have that much confidence in it. But I see how it can blind them. I think my dad's comment presented a version of me that looked very much like one of those people, passionate but mistaken. Or, to put it less kindly, overly academic and out of touch. I've been operating under the assumption that almost everyone can and should read for pleasure, and that they will gain from it if they do. I don't expect everyone to be readers to the same degree, to read the same kind of books or the same number. But given the vast variety of books out there, it seems possible that there is something for everyone. And even if they only ever read stacks and stacks of romance novels or celebrity biographies, they are still doing something with their brains beyond what more passive amusement and everyday life demand. What I want most to do is bring the benefits of reading to as many people as possible, to find readers everywhere and reach out to them. I believe, like the fractal scientist, that this is a way to solve many of the world's, or at least the country's problems. Writing that out it looks much more faith-based and messianic than I am normally inclined to be, but there it is. My brain sealed over the little crack of doubt pretty quickly, leaving me once again certain that the problem of low readership was solvable and not inherent, and that solving it would be a good and not just a neutral, profit-generating step. If someone who reads as much as my dad can be so complacent about everyone else's preference for abibliotic* lives, though, it might be even harder than I thought to generate change.
*abibliotic: coined, as far as I know, by me right now, and meaning hostile to or generally unacquainted with books.