With my publishing company’s latest book coming out next week, I’m supposed to be excited about books. And I am excited about that book. It’s beautifully written, endlessly entertaining, and it will move you in a way that few books can. If you’re in St. Louis and want to attend the debut book signing next Thursday, details are here.
Despite that, sometimes I wonder about the point of books.
I say this as a reader, writer, blogger, and publisher. I love books, particularly novels. But there are two things that worry me about the present and future of the medium:
So yeah, I was wondering about the whole point of books for a while. And then I attended a book reading at Meshuggah on the Loop, and something interesting happened.
A woman was reading from her novel in front of the crowd (a “crowd” at a coffee shop book reading is about 15 people). She didn’t introduce the book or give us context–she just jumped in and started reading about a married guy going to a strip club.
The scene was dripping with tension and sexuality. The author had a real way with words, completely transporting you to this strip club where this man waited in anticipation for his favorite dancer to take the stage wearing nothing more than a leather g-string.
I’ll admit it–I was a little turned on.
Then the author called the stripper by name for the first time: Steve.
I think every heterosexual man in the coffee shop felt very, very uncomfortable after that.
And it wasn’t because we were listening to a scene in a male strip club. It was because we all assumed that the stripper was a woman, and that image provoked a hormonal reaction in us. Then the world was turned upside down. It’s kind of like the blog entry I wrote about admiring a female jogger’s slender legs until you realize it’s a dude. It’s confusing for a second.
The point is, no movie could do what the author did in that scene. When it comes to unraveling information, books are unparalleled.
George R. R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones, reminded me of another reason why books are more powerful than movies: When you write a book, the budget for each scene is unlimited. Martin used to write for TV, but he got frustrated with the limited budgets, so he turned to books. No more constraints. If he wanted a giant battle, he got one without haggling with his producers. Easy.
Ever since those two revelations, I’ve rekindled my appreciation and hope for books. Here are a few quick reasons:
Last, I mentioned the problem of quantity. Really, though, that’s not a problem with books alone. There are so many movies, TV shows, games, and songs out there, and you can get any of them within a few minutes. Supply is diluted, and it will forever be diluted. That’s okay. It just means that finding good recommendation engines (whether they’re digital or human) is more important than ever before.
What’s the last truly great book that you read?