I’m a reader. I’ve read ever since I can remember. Back there, in the dim mists of time, I remember desperately trying to piece together a Disney comic story that my brother had read to me, from the pictures and what I remembered of the words, and relating those to the shape of the words.
I don’t remember precisely what Heinlein said about this in Glory Road, so I’ll paraphrase it: It’s an addiction. It’s not as destructive as cocaine, and it certainly – okay, probably – won’t make aged before my time, as meth would. I mean, there are side issues with reading, like sitting too long on your butt because you just hit the good part of that chapter, or, heaven forbid, sitting down to read when someone left a bucket of peanuts nearby. Let’s say it’s probably not the best thing for your physical tone and fitness. But it’s easier than most drugs. It’s also cheaper, at least now. Thanks to Kindle Unlimited Lending Library, I can keep myself to about $20 in reading budget most months, unless I fall head first into a series I really want to read and which is published traditionally, which means $10 a book. Then I blow the budget in a week.
The last time that happened, I binged Dresden files in a week. (I actually had some of the books, but they were in paper and somewhere in boxes at that time, in the middle of the epic move.) My husband raised his eyebrows and sighed at the price, but since I was recovering from surgery and that was all that kept me resting…
So, what is this about. Ah.
Apparently traditional publishing has decided they weren’t committing suicide fast enough. Here, there and everywhere, they’re letting it be known that their books will now be devoted to the “resistance” and “educating people” so that we don’t elect another Trump.
There is for instance, this gem, written, of course, by a male, who thinks little girls just can’t wait to read about pussy hatted “resistance” the “evil regime of Donald Trump.
Honestly, these people are all living in a giant bubble. They have all gone to the same schools where they were all given the holy word of Marx, and all their friends are furious that trump was elected, and all their eight year olds (why is it always eight year olds?) were heartbroken when Hillary didn’t win (why are they convinced that other people, you know, real live adults want to hear the opinion of 8 year olds?) All of them are having hysterics and milling around and decided that everyone in the country is as unhappy as they are, and all of them want to read how terrible Trump is, or be “educated” so that no one will make the mistake of deviating from these people’s received wisdom again.
I’ve run into this attitude before, where publishers think they are teachers and the publishing house some kind of podium from which they should teach their “truths” to the public. I don’t know if this is the result of very limited life experience, in which they were taught only people who attend the best colleges know anything, or if they are simply virtue signaling to the rest of their smaller, insular field with what “good people” they are.
Heck, it could even be that literature, having cast off the idea of judging quality by references to classical literature and history, started judging by how well it represented “the underdog” or rather “the underclass” and the class struggle and the oppression of capitalism, and all the Marxist rot they now teach in school instead of classical mythology (one mythology for another. I liked Jove better.)
And you know, you always have to go a step further to be considered cutting edge, edgy, daring, or award worthy. And awards I guess do matter for publishers, because with falling printruns and all the funny accounting it’s the only thing they can point to to say they’re doing a great job. Maybe. Well, at least both editor and author can get jobs teaching college on the strength of that.
So they’ve forgotten they sell books to people. Instead they think people will, of necessity, buy books. They’re not wrong, at that. You know how I said some people read compulsively? It turns out we make most of the money for publishers.
The people who read one or two books a year? Yeah, that’s fine and there’s a lot of them, but my people? We read a minimum of two books a week (If I’m on vacation I read that a year.) Sure we re-read but we still need new fodder. And we’ll read like crazy. Except we don’t read anything and everything.
Most of the books I read are what I call “popcorn books.” I used to buy bags of them or boxes at library sales. They’re books that fit solidly in the genre and I read and forget. If the experience is particularly pleasant, I will remember the author’s name and buy more of his/her books if I see them. This is how I found people like Diana Wynne Jones or Jill McGown or… half a dozen others.
In the eighties I read mostly science fiction (and fantasy, but mostly science fiction.) But the subtle messages that America was doomed, capitalism was evil, and oh, yeah, women were so much better than men at everything kept getting stronger and stronger till I felt I was being hit over the head with a politically correct hammer.
So I escaped to mystery. It was a brief escape. Mystery, at the time, if you limited yourself to cozies or funny mysteries, you found – of course you did – some politics and some crazy but if the rest of the book was good I’d still read it and even enjoy it.
Then cozies were declared “not real mysteries” tm and historical mystery was “just not selling” tm and the remaining mysteries went to “All of humanity is awful, and everyone would kill anyone given the chance” with breaks to preach about whatever the current politics were when it was written. From the left side of course. (What you think the author is crazy? She wants to sell again.)
And I escaped to history. But the kind of history I can read as popcorn is what I call “novelizations of history” and that too became preaching and also characters who, in their day, would have been killed for being crazy. Yeah, I know. I know. New York city editors would think the Elizabethan woman you wrote and who thinks that getting beaten is quite normal and natural and possibly a sign of love is a reflection of your own beliefs, not history, and they’ll never publish you again. But there’s still only so much nonsense I can take.
I held on, though, till just past 9/11, when every character no matter if middle ages or renaissance or whatever had a “magic Muslim friend”tm who was culturally enlightened and the voice of modernity in the book.
I bailed. I bailed to Romance.
I’m a profoundly unnatural woman. I didn’t read romance when I was young (beyond my cousin’s books, because… well… they were in the house) but by 2003, I was starting to dip my toes into Heyer, thanks to Dave Freer.
I bailed to regency romance. (I tried contemporary and it was a mix of sex and preaching.) Oh, regency had sex too, often apropos nothing. But I just skipped those parts.
When I came to regency, it was I’m sure already silly. But I had a backlog of years to read, and I read mostly used books. Take $20 and buy 20 books. Trade them in for half the value and get ten, continue till you have no more books. Then repeat.
Eventually I ran out, or at least I ran out of anything I was willing to read and that took more than ten minutes, because I wasn’t skipping most of the over the top, ridiculous sex scenes.
So I bought some new romances. Dear Lord. Yeah. Every character was a 21st century feminist in petticoats. They knew women were smarter, stronger, etc. than men, and they couldn’t wait to tell you. They all ran shelters for abused women, they were all suffragettes, they all (even the noblewomen) started businesses. Then there was the purely silly. You know, a duke was a doctor, and everyone was in awe of him. (This was at the time the social equivalent of a duke being a coachman. Never mind.)
Fortunately by that time, indie had come to be, and now I read in great jags from sf/f to mystery to romance and back again, as the spirit moves me. As I said KULL has been a boon to my sanity and our budget.
And then… And then I read declaration after declaration from publishers and writers that they’re NOW serious about educating us. They’re going to write about the horribly oppressive Trump regime and their brave resistance to it. This time (they mean it) they’re going to really educate the lumpen masses, so they never have the temerity to doubt the wisdom of their betters again.
Look, some of the people who read compulsively might even be leftists or hate Trump. Some. Depends on the genre. Mostly the readership of romance looks like America, so I suspect you have Trump supporters and people who voted for him reluctantly making up a good half of the population. The rest? They probably look down on Romance and if they read it, they don’t admit to it. Romance and cozy readers (they came back as craft mysteries) aren’t that different. And most cozy readers are like me in cozy mode: we want fun, we want silly, we want escape. If we wanted to ponder the great problems of the age, we wouldn’t be reading “Purl one, kill two.” Science fiction? I don’t know. I know the numbers from the big houses are falling and that a lot of my indie friends writing either without politics or with a libertarian perspective are raking it in. Is there a market for the traditionally published lefty stuff? Sure. But it’s a small market (most of the people who talk about it don’t even read it) and it’s being split by all the traditionally published books.
So what does “now we’ll preach more” and “now with more Trump derangement syndrome” do to that landscape?
Publishers think they’re in the heyday of the nineties, when all you could read was what was on the shelves, and publishers controlled what got on the shelves. So addicts, like me, still bought some, because we had to read something.
But now? Bah. Most indie books are straight up apolitical. (I suspect the political ones don’t sell and the writers give up. Because, you know, it’s a lot of work if you don’t get any return. And I’m not saying the political ones are bad. I’m saying at least those who are left are competing for readers in a saturated field.) And we have tons of other things to read, without the ebooks being priced through the roof, either.
So… Traditional publishing has put a gun to its head and is threatening to pull the trigger.
And the worst part?
I don’t think I even care anymore.