Reading is Fundamental
by David E. Booker
Most of us beyond a certain age heard the promotional manta "Reading is Fundamental," or sometimes "Reading is Fun-damental."
Of course, many of us immediately rebelled against that pronouncement, a tired old saying that those adults passed off on us kids
because they couldn't think of anything else to tell us about why we should read.
Unfortunately, many of those adults told us that because they themselves were not readers, though they believed reading was important. And other
adults told us that because they did read, but weren't sure how to impart to us the joy, the wonder, the importance or reading, because
reading is one of those joys and wonders that you don't really grasp the importance of unless or until it grabs you.
That's not to say there are "born" readers, though there probably are. What that does say is that reading is something that
often takes time and practice and even a little desire to grasp.
Today, however, there are fewer readers than there were in the past, or at least it appears so. According to a recent report in Newsweek,
over the past 10 years the number of readers has dropped about 13 percent. Conversely, and even a little strangely, the number of books published has risen almost 60 percent,
going from 100,000 titles in 1993 to almost 160,000 titles in 2003. The number of magazine titles has also risen from about 3,000 to over 7,000.
What does this mean? On the economic side, it means more dollars are chasing a smaller, more segmented audience. That breeds the need to
have ever more familar, formulaic stories, in the hope that those stories will translate into blockbusters. Movie studios, book publishers, magazine publishers
want something just like something else that was successful, only different. It helps explain why many movies today come from comic books, old TV shows, or other
medium where the story has been successful. Studios and book publishers want something with a built in audience or at least built in recognition
before risking money on it.
In an historical sense, there is nothing new about this. In the Middle Ages, a time that gave birth to the Romance tales of King Arthur and
the Knights of the Round Table, you did not invent new stories, you took a story that was already familiar and built on it. There are several
versions of Tristan and Isolde, evolving forward from Irish and Pictish tales (which merged), to a Welsh tale, to a Breton tale, to a tale written down in the 12th century by
an author known as Thomas and copied in the 13th century version by Gottfried von Strassburg, a low degree cleric.
Originally, the stories were oral, often sung by troubadours. Then, when stories started to be written down, the price of paper
and ink often made it hard to justify recording other than known tales. Today, with the consolidation of media outlets (Where once there were over 40 major book publishers, there are now about 7.), and the cost to produce movies and TV shows
there is more of what works and less of what's new.
One possible outlet, if not cure, for new ideas are regional publishers and "literary" magazines. Another is self-publishing. Unlike in days past, self publishing is gaining (or re-gaining)
some respectability, but only if you manage to sell enough copies of your work. Henry David Thoreau self-published On Walden Pond, something almost every high school or college
English student is required to read. This is somewhat amazing considering it took a while for Thoreau to sell all the copies he had had printed.
Another outlet might also be the World Wide Web. With more and more people becoming familiar with if not completely computer "literate," Web sites
devoted to fiction and other forms of writing might just be a way around the consolidation of media outlets and the constriction of good stories
that aren't just like something known, only different. Reading might become fun-damental again.
A word from the Web monkey: this site is a work in progress
What you are visiting is a work in progress. Please feel free to "knock around" in the site. Not every link works yet, and the search feature is something I hope to get to as I learn a little more about coding.
Comments and suggestions are certainly welcome. But whatever you see here, don't assume the webmaster fully endorses everything.
Also remember that what you read here belongs to those who have created it. They are offering it to you to enjoy, think about, and even comment on. The three goals of good writing are to entertain, educate, and enlighten. Sometimes it will not do all three or not do all three equally well, but the writers in this site are offering you gifts, enjoy each one as much as you can.
Thank you for stopping by.
--- the Sedulous Ape