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Whatever Happened to 'Books'?

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Ever since I was a kid, I have always believed that books are stories. As a very young child, even before I was able to read on my own, my parents read to me from storybooks.

When I was a little older, I read stories on my own. I would haunt the children's library on Stone Avenue in Brooklyn looking for books that told great stories. In those days, the most popular books for young boys were The Boy Allies, about two boys during World War I, Bomba the Jungle Boy, about a brave boy in Africa, and The Hardy Boys, about the adventures of two amateur kid detectives. Girls, too, had their storybooks as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Women, Nancy Drew, and others.

It was a feast, and soon I found myself reading Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Nordoff and Hall's Mutiny on the Bounty series and many others. It used to be a matter of honor and achievement to have a filled up my library card requiring a fresh reissue.

There was no television in those days. Instead, we got lots of radio stories after school and movie stories every Saturday afternoon. My mother was a prodigious novel reader and I watched her read day after day, getting her books out of storefront lending libraries for what I think was ten cents a day.

Books had genres, but they were based more on their physical configuration. Comics were called funnies, then they became comic books, stapled colored pamphlets mostly read by teenage boys. Superman was the hot number, then Batman, and soon comic book heroes became more and more violent to the point where alarmed mothers mounted a campaign that ultimately distressed the industry.

For the even less literate there were "big little books," which had their own cast of characters many of them replicated from the "funnies."

Fantasy stories were fairy tales best exemplified by the Brothers Grimm while romantic love and its obsessions and dangers was hawked via magazines like True Romances, True Confessions and others. Science Fiction consisted of comic book heroes like Flash Gordon, a character who later became a movie hero.

Police and mystery stories were in the so-called Pulp magazines, named after the pulpy paper used to print them. All had lurid covers hawking the mayhem readers would subsequently find in their pages. The pulps also made a pass at Zombie, Vampire, Fantasy and Science Fiction stories, but it was the murder and mystery stories that made it big time to the silver screen.

Movies used many of these stories for their plot lines, which had a big movie run, and still has legs in that medium today. Out of these pages came Sam Spade and numerous other hard-boiled copycats.

Celebrity stories were found mostly in fan magazines where the lives of movie stars were lavishly promoted. Newspaper columnists were fed gossip and tidbits by studio promoters, and the lives of celebrities were recorded ad infinitum. Fan magazines have morphed into tell-all celebrity memoirs which, like an errant bacteria, has infected anyone who thinks their life story is worthy of readership with enough titillating sexual highlights.

Somewhere along the line, the publishers got smart and packaged these once disparate stories into more expensive hardbound products refining the very same formulae into the mainstream of the reading public.

So what happened to books? I hesitate to use the word "literature" but real readers will know what I mean. Let's call them adult fiction, the kind of stories that interested educated literate people in the later years of the nineteenth century, and the six or seven decades of the twentieth. Fiction created by Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Lewis, Dickens, Hardy, Trollope, Tolstoy, Turgurneiv, Twain, Harte, Kafka, Joyce, and numerous others.

Accuse me of highfalutin snobbery, but books like those taught many of us the meaning of life. There is something about stories, a narrative that drives us to speculate on "what happens next" that is entrenched deep in the human experience, the urge to know what we must face before our consciousness vanishes. Such speculations are embedded in our collective imagination and are addressed by talented authors who find their inspiration from the common pool of the human family.

These stories offer us a decoding of the secrets of the human struggle. They teach us empathy, ethics, morality and all the ramifications of evil motives and how we should engage with our species in the real world. They teach us the beauty of language, the wonder and mystery of the universe, the infinitely interesting saga of the loving heart and the vast diversity of our species.

We need these stories to nourish our spiritual health and balance. We have never in the course of history been without them.

What worries me is that such works of the imagination, real books telling great stories, are being crowded out by the vast commercial juggernaut of the genre explosion, aided and abetted by the life changing technological revolution.

Worse, our educational beaurocracy is now on the road to choking to death the kind of fiction I am writing about in order to teach the more pragmatic works of non-fiction in the hope that it will encourage practical literacy survival skills. Two competing goods need not destroy each other.

Please don't think this a rant against non-fiction and its various genres such as history, biography, self-help, religion, cooking, psychology and the masses and masses of textbooks that teach us our skills and an understanding of the practical and psychological aspects of our lives. They are essential to modern life and learning.

We are going through a period where such books are getting lost in the crowded corridors of our commercial enterprises. Despite this, such books will continue to be written by those who must tell these stories, and read by those who hunger to read them.

Some believe that the books I refer to are an endangered species, but as long as mankind endures, their future is assured despite their current slump.

Warren Adler has just released his 33rd book "The Serpent's Bite." Best known for "The War of the Roses," his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the dark comedy box office hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, Warren Adler quickly became the fountainhead of Hollywood screenplay adaptations, fueling an unprecedented bidding war in a Hollywood commission for his unpublished book "Private Lies." While "The War of the Roses" garnered outstanding box office and critical success with Golden Globe, BAFTA and multiple award nominations internationally, Adler went on to sell movie and film rights for 12 books, all noted for his character driven and masterful storytelling. Produced for PBS' American Playhouse series, Adler's "The Sunset Gang" was adapted into a trilogy starring Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Jerry Stiller, garnering Doris Roberts an Emmy nomination for 'Best Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series.' "The Serpent's Bite" is now available as an e-book and hardback.

For more information on Warren Adler and to download his free e-book of the week visit www.warrenadler.com