November 5th, 2012

On reading and reading choices - another rant

I don't know why I so feel the need to rant right now. Maybe it's work avoidance? Anyhow, one of the books I'm writing up today contained an alluring phrase "making new readers." It was a passing comment, referring to the big changes in the printing industry and especially changes in newspapers and journals.

We're going through another period of change in reading. We are, in fact, making new readers. It's not a single particular writer or a single particular blog or ezine. It's a big and complex phenomenon. The new readers created by the way we use the web and the new researchers created by e-research need to be added to the way people read ebooks. I suspect they're creating more new readers.

These readers are not necessarily governed by canon. They're not necessarily trained to pay extra attention to the groups of writers we learn about in formal education. Most of these readers have been through formal education, but I suspect they see those writers as something apart and something that they may tackle or they may simply ignore.

These readers are more likely to write, whether it be books, ebooks, fanzines, blogs, fanfic or a thousand other things.

These readers are some of them old readers, who have simply moved to a wider variety of reading platforms that contain more reading choices. Most of them are, however, new and unquantified. Not sufficiently described.

We don’t know who is buying our books and why. Publishers are after knowledge-security and so the same fashionable style of books appear time after time in their catalogues, promoted more than the others, but that's because most publishers perceive new readers as a simple variant on old readers. They assume, I think, that previous cultural choices will simply transfer into the new media. There is overlap, as I just said, and so promotion of new books works. Right now, though most work will produce results, those who can get information out there about the program they want backers for or the novel they just self-published are in a good position to get at least some results.

Quite soon, just as in the 19th century, reading choices and preferences will start to emerge. The mess will settle down into patterns. Predictability will be less of a task and readers will associate with like readers and find paths through them and through like critics to works they love. The long-time dedicated readers and the new literati will emerge. That's when publishing will settle down and when we will be able to see its future.

What I'm excited about, however, is that the new readers are making different choices to the old. There's potentially a revolution in reading choices and in the societies that produce these readers. We don't know the shape of the changes yet. Most of the commentary I've seen has focused on a few obvious elements and not looked at the sheer size and complexity and the overwhelmingly participative nature of new reading.

(no subject)

I've finished with three books today and one essay. One meeting, one more book and some more useful words and I'll be where I need to be. One of the books was an "I want to talk about this" novel. It left me feeling all kinds of amazed. It was technically near perfect and emotionally packed a punch and...I can't tell you what it is because it's an Aurealis book. If it's not shortlisted then I'll be more than a bit surprised, so wait a few months and then read it, maybe.

It caused me to rearrange my potential finalists pile, for it caused other books to fall into shadow. This was a good feeling. We should have more writing that's so good it makes you see what's missing elsewhere. Gives writers something to work towards and readers something to passionately defend.

I really don't want to read that fourth book today. I want to savour the flavour of the last one. Maybe I'll take an early dinner.