Saturday, December 12, 2009

Recently, I came upon a list of the No.1-audience-rated tv shows over 60 years of U. S. viewing Among the shows were Wagon Train, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Laverne and Shirley. Nowhere was there a sign of M.A.S.H, NYPDBlue or Mad Men, all smart, edgy, sophisticated shows highly rated by television critics. This made me realize that there is a parallel in literature. Best sellers, those books that fly out of bookstores and online, like Tuesdays with Morrie, Three Cups of Tea and Eat, Pray, Love,have ranked right up there at the top of the best seller lists, bringing their authors buckets of change and fabulous homes. The writing in each of these blockbusters is often clumsy and awash with dubious premises. However, their messages or moral points are clear to the point of being simplistic: be kind, do good works, get religion. These titles are the No.1 audience-rated books of their times. It makes me think of the oft-stated phrase "Heaven is boring".
Literary buffs prize Don de Lillo, Philip Roth and Lorrie Moore. Any one of those might win a Pulitzer Prize for literature or, sometimes, a McArthur genius grant and if obscure enough, a Nobel prize, but never will their works bring in enough money for the author to buy a house in Palm Beach or Malibu or Bali. And yet, to read any one of them is to be transported to a place where you've never been, never even knew existed, and peopled by characters you've always wanted to know.
And speaking of immortals, the creator of Holden Caulfield might have died last week, but Holden never will.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Back in the day, a "platform" meant the tall structure where the high diver stood before racing out on the board. But somewhere in biz school lingo, "platform" came to mean a product springboard, a way to distribute content (what we mossbacks called putting information or thoughts in writing). For 500 years, the platform of the book business was type on paper, bound and covered in cardboard. Now, we book publishers are saluting our new platforms--electronic books like Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook. These ebooks are more than mere gadgets, their inventors tell us. Instead, they are new platforms for the book business, the first in hundreds of years, finally giving the finger to old-style paper pages. Fine, I say: anything, including hand-helds, are grand platforms if they encourage more reading. But a startling statistic has recently come to the fore: there has been an increase of about 350 percent in American data consumption in the last 30 years, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Sounds good, right? Most of this data is channeled into our brains by what is called "TV-related" content, which amounts to almost five hours per day. Then comes radio, then the computer, then Internet games and finally, at 36 minutes per day, reading. (I presume this means book-type material on any platform). Apparently, even the new book platforms, which now include hand-helds and computers, have not increased the low level of interest in longer content. We book lovers think we know the reason--that the young don't like sustained reading of any kind, that two pages is about their limit. But we don't know the answer to the problem. Since writers like Dan Brown and John Grisham corner the market on numbers of books sold, perhaps they could clone themselves! You can comment directly to my blog now, so speak up... Barbara Phillips