People are freaking out over the book business lately. Kids don't like reading and all that -- it's allegedly dragging down the overall intelligence of the planet. I disagree on numerous accounts. Firstly, the intelligence of the planet is not being dragged down by the shift from books into video games -- we're just concentrating on a different skillset. The world is in a transitional phase, agog over what the modern pursuit of the Internet has to offer. We still haven't fully figured out what this newfangled global connection is and how best to use it -- there's no shame in that. Pets.com taught us that nobody gives a fuck about buying pet shit off the Internet. We're still learning, dammit.
Books are an established medium, as old as, well, Guttenberg (Johannes not Steve). The problem is in the fact that we're not dumber (more dumb? hmm) we're just less tolerant of smelling the roses. The old world and its old books were fine when a book was your only option. You wanted a book to delve into a myriad of details, to describe the ice-capped tidal surges and the way the moonlight crested upon their chipped and foam-dusted prismatic, luminous floes as the rough-hewn timber of your schooner cut through their jagged impermanence towards the shoals of some far-stretched isle. Yes, it's melodious and poetic and really paints a picture, but you know what? It's boring. Yes, I know it's sacrilegious to come into HuffPost Books and start banging the gavel against the beauty of prose, but damn it, people, it's time for a change.
We need a new era of books -- and don't go pulling that Twilight shit on me. We need intelligent books that are more accessible and profound to the younger demographic. Harry Potter taught us as much -- there is still a huge faction of people willing to become enchanted, we just have to allow them to discover the content on their terms! Books are becoming a hallmark of the class divide and that shouldn't be the case. Books, not Smith & Wesson should be the great equalizer. We shouldn't present the dusty old classics and expect kids to choose them over Grand Theft Auto and its many fine sequels -- we need to figure out a style of prose that makes Grand Theft Auto dull by comparison, and Joseph Conrad ain't it (blasphemy, right?). It's not enough to point to the odd successes like Dan "Goddamn" Brown and say "Oh the industry is fine." While I don't believe books will ever go out of style, I also don't think that they are the same needed escape that they used to be. We are no longer stuck with the abysmal 14-hour carriage-ride option between a slow-burn Henry James tale and chatting with the hare-lipped cufflink salesman to our immediate right. A new generation of willing readers is born every second (or every ten years, it all depends on how you define a generation), we just have to access them instead of forcing them to come to us.
Don't think of Chaucer (or Joseph Conrad) as bad -- they're not. They're just products of very different eras. Sure you can point to the Iliad as "timeless" and "exciting" but that is exciting on your terms. The Iliad sucks balls compared to the majesty of running over prostitutes in a stolen police car. And while I think it is a shame as well, I am not so naïve as to ignore the problem. Instead, think of the Iliad as a bridge that spans the chasm between Chaucer, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and everything you/we think is "great." Of course, the Iliad is not sufficient to fully cross that ever-ebbing chasm, there needs to be something that extends from the modern side as well. I hate myself for saying this, but 50 Shades of Grey is a prime example. So desperate and hungry were people for accessible fiction that "speaks their language," they turned a bastardized Twilight fuckfest fan-fiction turnip into a pop culture phenomenon. Imagine how well something as sexy as a contemporary Tropic of Cancer or Lolita would do in this day and age? Stop thinking people can't comprehend intelligent books and start thinking "how can I make intelligent books accessible to people with a lot of options?" It is in that answer that a new age of authors will be bred and a renaissance of good literature will resurface. And no, Jonathan Franzen is not the answer either.