Are Books Dead?

Various strands have been floating through the atmosphere of late and consequently through my alleged mind.

The LA Times recently shut down its book review section moving content and three of its now former five book review editors to a features page. I pray the NYTimes Book Review  isn’t next. Some weeks even that grande dame seems a page signature or two shy of permanent anorexia.

BookEnds Literary Agency’s July 16 discussion debated whether or not readers buy fiction in times of economic distress (file that bit of news under It was the worst of times to be a newbie novelist.) Posters to the literary blog The Elegant Variation bat back and forth the merits of leaving print media behind for the web.

So I throw it out to you, dear readers:
• How do you find your way to the books you enjoy reading? Friends’ recommendations? Book reviews? Browsing the shelves at the library? Amazon? Your local indy bookseller or big box?

• Have you changed your book buying habits of late?

• Given up on fiction for more practical books, such as those titled Your Money or Your Shirt — Surviving Today’s Financial Crises? (Although from where I sit, nothing is more practical than facing down the persistent wave of bad news with a terrific escape into someone else’s maelstrom. And I made up the title of that book.)

• The evisceration of book review sections — good for the muse or bad for the muse?  If today’s (to wit yesterday’s) model is destined for the circular file, what model would you propose for the future?

• And last but by no means least — read any good books lately?

PS  Tune in to on Saturday, July 26. Remember those essays I promised you back in May? The ones that should have been published but weren’t? Promise now kept. Enjoy.

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5 thoughts on “Are Books Dead?

  1. Cindy La Ferle

    Great food for thought, Debra! Like every writer I know, I’m worried about the state of print media. I doubt that readers of our generation (or our parents’) will abandon newspapers and books entirely, but sadly, few of the 20-somethings I know — all college educated — are as interested in reading “real” newspapers and books as I was at their age. Most are getting what (they say) they need online. Or television.

    As for fiction, I tend to enjoy it most as an escape DURING hard times. Right now I’m reading Anne Tyler’s BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWN-UPS, but also have a stack of nonfiction I’m working on, including Bill Bryson’s THE LOST CONTINENT. I also have a wish list of novels that caught my eye on display at Borders in Chicago — TRAVEL WRITING included. My taste is so eclectic, it’s weird. But I became less ashamed of this after learning that Ray Bradbury fills his “creative well” with everything from classic lit to the backs of cereal boxes.

    I always enjoy Boomer Cafe — and will watch for your pieces there!

  2. Debra

    Wonderful insights, Cindy. I LOVE Anne Tyler. Adored DIGGING TO AMERICA. Will have to check out GROWN-UPS.

    My experience mirrors yours: 20-somethings are much more likely to get their news from the net. The upside may just mean that as these sites grow, the only way they will be remain viable is by offering content. And who will be supplying the content but writers!

    As for the generation’s falling interest in reading for pleasure — I wonder as more and more books become available on the Kindles and such, maybe reading will for pleasure will click with this generation. But will curling up with a “good electronic reading device” ever match the sensory joys of opening a new book? The smell of the paper, underlining passages to savor at some future time, glancing at the spine of a well-loved novel on the bookshelf and smiling in memory of the journey taken via its pages.

    Eclectic tastes are to be celebrated! I love Ann Patchett and Harlan Coban. The more genres the merrier.

  3. Dolly Bourke

    I thought you’d never ask. At the library, I browse the old books and the new books; the biography shelves and the cook books; the classics (high school paperbacks) and the books on the “ready to be shelved cart.”. I enjoy this pursuit at least once a week In new book, non-fiction this week, I found William J. Bernstein’s “A Splendid Exchange:How Trade Shaped the World”. I love this kind of study, because in the telling, you see the whole panoply of human endeavors and conditions, from the earliest written fragments, from a particular perspective. More later. Gotta read now.

  4. Debra

    Dolly! You’re terrific. What an interesting take on browsing. The activity is your window into humanity itself. So true. Authors write about that which captures their interest and so the possibilities are an endless dance between writer and his/her intellectual pursuit of the moment.

  5. Elissa Schwartz

    Debra, I am either a purist or old-fashioned, depending upon your perspective. I decline any offer to receive a publication of any sort electronically, as I am only drawn to the tangible written word. I hope and pray that I am not the sole exception to what may be the rule these days, as I do not want to learn one day that the option that I am now given is no longer.
    As for places to find a good book, I would like to add ye olde used bookstore, although as a writer I feel some conflict in admitting that. On the other hand, it appeals to the side of me that desires to recycle as much as feasibly can be.
    By the way, I agree with you that there is a positive to eyeing that book on the shelf, a reminder of its contents without touching it and knowing that it is there for you with no more effort than a grab of the hand.

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