Reading is fundamental. No, I am not referring to the type of reading where we kiki and cackle with our friends, playfully ripping each other to shreds about various aspects of our appearance and mannerisms. I'm actually referring to the act of looking at, and comprehending, printed text. And yes, I'm aware that now that I've established the context of the expression as I meant it, I am coming across like a cliché from some 1970s Schoolhouse Rock! segment.
I've spent the past couple of months promoting my memoir, Inside the Vortex. What I have observed is that people aren't always quick to pick up a book. I suppose this is universally indicative of today's internet-driven world. We have all become accustomed to using blogs and social media as our main source for content, leaving little room for newspapers and magazines to compete. For those that are still inclined to invest time in reading a book, it's just a matter of downloading a file to a Kindle, Nook, or iPad, which would explain why it's become increasingly difficult to find a bookstore nowadays. (I have to open Google maps on my iPhone just to find a bookstore sometimes.) However, having stated that, I've noticed that the biggest disinterest in literature seems to come from my target audience: gay men. I'm sure there are plenty of guys out there who consider themselves modern-day literati. This piece, though, is based off of my all too frequent interactions with non-book reading men who could care less about this dying art form.
Gay men are regarded as trendsetters, with people looking to us for indicators about where pop culture is heading. If you think I'm off the mark with that statement, take a moment to examine the music, television, art, and fashion landscapes over the past thirty years and then get back to me. I believe we are something of an urban renaissance community; we set the tone and others usually follow. So it strikes me as being slightly off-kilter that most of the guys I've encountered show little interest in authors and their bodies of work. Gay men are well versed in the world of reality TV and can have hour-long conversations about the complexities of the relationships amongst the women from any Real Housewives franchise, but when you ask them what was the last book they read, many of them will draw a blank. I've even had one guy go so far as to tell me, "Well, I wanted to read Fifty Shades of Gray, but I heard it was being made into a movie so I'm just going to wait and watch it instead." I proceeded to tell him that what he said sounded like fifty shades of stupid.
Another great explanation I've heard for a lack of interest in literature seems to come from financial constraints. While it's true that most of us are still recovering from a terrible recession, "I don't have the money for it right now" isn't incredibly believable from a person you bump into at a bar or club -- especially when he is dressed to the nines and holding an adult beverage made with top shelf liquor. Speaking from personal experience, even the most cash-strapped gay can scrounge up the money for a ticket to the Black Party. It seems odd that there is an inability to pull twenty bucks out for a book that can provide hours of entertainment.
So how can one generate interest in books in our reality TV crazed, social media obsessed climate? I've had to carefully strategize how to go about promoting myself as an author, and in the process I've used some rather unconventional methods. For one thing, I've had to remind people that the biggest reading tool they have is right in the palm of their hand -- their smartphones. Amazon has a Kindle app that is available as a free download on both iPhone and Android devices. If you're loyal to Apple, then check out iBooks. Both of these apps allow delivery of an ebook to a handset within minutes, and while the size of a phone screen might not be as generous as a tablet, it does allow the convenience of reading a book on the go. It also alleviates the dilemma of carrying around an extra device or a paperback for those who like to travel lightly. In addition to posting the links for my book on Twitter (one of my friends said that I remind him of Barbara Walters when she plugged her autobiography everyday on The View for two years), I am constantly tweeting about the ability to use a smartphone as an eReader. Rest assured guys: you can still keep Grindr running in the background and receive your notifications should you decide to immerse yourself in an ebook.
Speaking of Grindr, who knew it would prove to be such an effective marketing tool for an author who is trying to make his mark in the LGBT community? A carefully worded profile that points people to my book has been beneficial and resulted in several sales. This took a few tries since the good administrators over at Grindr can be Gestapo-like when it comes to their policing of profiles. Apparently, they have something against shameless self-promotion. Nevertheless, the additional exposure has been helpful, making an already entertaining app even more addictive.
This might all sound like a gigantically glorified marketing pitch to draw attention to my work. Don't get me wrong. If this write-up gets people interested in my book that'd be great. But if not, then please check out someone else's. There are a ton of LGBT authors who have published brilliant novels just waiting to be discovered. I'm passionate about reading, and this piece was not written with the intention of offending anyone. I simply want to challenge and enlighten those out there who haven't picked up a book since their days of required syllabus reading. I'm genuinely concerned that we are overlooking and neglecting the joy and knowledge that can be obtained from reading a good book, and that this is a trend that will be passed down to future generations of gays. We take pride in our appearance, but what about stimulating our minds? After all, looks fade, and buff physiques don't last forever. Intelligence is perhaps the sexiest quality a man can cultivate that will stand the test of time.