Filed under: Killer Year Members
One of the most common things a new novelist is likely to hear from well- meaning friends and relatives is, “Hey, I’ve got an idea: why don’t you tell your agent to call Oprah and get you on the show?”
Yes, and right after I do that, I’ll go down to the local convenience store and ask if they could please sell me a winning lottery ticket.
The truth is no one seems to know how you “get on Oprah;” and that’s what makes her book club so powerful. It’s rooted in one woman’s s love for reading, and her honest desire to share that passion with a country, by all accounts, in danger of forgetting its power.
There are countless theories about why “reading is at risk,” but I suspect the reason people are spending their entertainment dollars elsewhere is simple: readers are having too many experiences with much hyped books that turn out to be disappointing. So what do they do? They put in a Netflix movie; they turn on the computer; they take up Sudoku. (No offense to aficionados, but what exactly is Sudoku?)
In the past few months, I’ve had the great privilege of speaking to various groups, both in crowded bookstores and at small ones with only a handful of seats occupied. Of course, I was supposed to be talking about my own novel, but I soon found that what I really wanted to discuss was reading itself. I wanted to talk about the books that turned me into a reader as a child, and the ones that absorb and entrance me today. Soon it wasn’t just a reading; it was a discussion, with those who’d come to listen eagerly sharing their own favorites.
In the process, I got lots of fabulous book recommendations. But I also heard some frustration. Despite the ever more hyperbolic claims made by the hype machine, far too many book lovers are being led to novels that just don’t live up their extravagant praise.
It’s not that those books aren’t being written; it’s that the books that readers would enjoy are not always the ones that are being loudly touted by the machine. Oprah set out to point out some novels that may have gone unnoticed, and others that she thought were worthy of the kudos they received. In the integrity of her process, she energized the publishing industry and reintroduced countless readers to the unmatched joy of a fully engaged imagination interacting with the written word.
But just as every great story generates new readers eager for a repeat experience, every time a reader forces him or herself to slog through another plotless, “well-written” book, or a story that counts on non-stop action to cover the absence of anything resembling a fully-developed character, they become just a little less likely to pick up another one–and a little more likely to choose a more predictably satisfying form of entertainment instead.
One problem is that books are now being divided into two categories: books that are good for you (otherwise known as literary) and books that taste good (the commercial.)
But what all the classic writers from Dickens to Jane Austen knew, and what category-resistant authors like J.K. Rowling have proven conclusively today, is that readers are hungry for both:
they want fiction of substance, with characters that fully engage them, and they want–and deserve– to be entertained and consumed by a great story.
The writer who delivers that, and manages to work their way through the maze to real live readers, will prove the doom sayers wrong every time.
Meanwhile, if anyone knows how I can get on Oprah…
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