This question came about awhile back when I participated in a group signing of authors from a local writing organization at a local town fair. The town, which will remain nameless, is an affluent commuter suburb. Many of the residents work in Manhattan; most have at least an undergraduate degree. So I was dumbstruck when a certain percentage of the adults who stopped by our table and were asked if they’d like to read a good book, answered with, “I don’t read.”
They DON’T READ? EVER? I’d expect an answer like that from a surly teenager plugged simultaneously into his Game Boy and Ipod. But college educated adults living in an upscale community? All right, maybe they meant they don’t read any of the genres represented by those of us participating that day. I can accept that as much as I’d wish otherwise. But that wasn’t the case. Neither was it that they only read non-fiction (although a few did admit to that with an air that spoke without a doubt that fiction -- any fiction -- was beneath them.) No, most who admitted not reading meant THEY DON’T READ. As in NOTHING. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not books. Not magazines. Not newspapers.
And what amazed me the most was that they admitted this to total strangers! I’d think that any adult who didn’t read would keep that admission buried deep underneath the widescreen TV, not voice it with a sense of pride. But no, they looked down their noses, their voices filled with disdain, as they proclaimed, “I DON’T READ.” As if reading were a bad thing, something to be avoided at all costs. As if we authors were the enemy, trying to infect them with printed and bound versions of some lethal strain of bird flu.
Now the truth is that we had quite a successful day, selling dozens of books and passing out promotional literature for our writing organization to many interested people. I’m not complaining. Just mystified by the responses of some who wandered past our table. My fellow authors felt likewise. None of us could possibly imagine living a life devoid of the pleasures of the written word.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I’ve been hearing for some time now that publishing is in its final death throes, and the new generation of e-readers (Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.) is the final nail in the coffin of printed and bound books. I don’t know what the future will bring in the way we receive and read books and magazines. We’ve been taking some huge virtual leaps into Star Trek-like realms lately. I do believe, though, that publishing will survive. I know this because of a conversation I had recently with a member of Generation Y.
I was in an Apple store, drooling over an iPad. Yes, I want one. I’ve already sent Santa my list for this year, and it only has one item on it. I was playing around with an iPad when one of the Apple Geniuses came up to me and asked if he could show me anything. We began to talk about reading books on the iPad. This kid, who couldn’t have been more than 19 or 20, admitted to me that prior to buying his iPad, he NEVER read books, other than those he had to read for school (and even then, he often resorted to the Cliff Notes versions.) Since getting his iPad, he’s reading an average of 2 to 3 books a WEEK!
The author in me was about to break out in the Happy Dance right there on the floor of the Apple store. I wanted to send Steve Jobs a thank-you balloon bouquet. If one Gen Y has discovered the joys of reading, thanks to new technology, I’m sure many more will follow. No matter what those Cretans at the street fair said, the rumors of the death of the written word are greatly exaggerated.