What Happened to Books?
What Happened to Books?
July 27, 2011
I looked for a nice book to read on the plane. I couldn’t find one. What’s up with that? There are nine trillion books in the world and I couldn’t find a single one that I imagined would interest me for more than a paragraph. I blame the Internet.
I consume content on the Internet like an anteater with a vacuum attachment. I like my information in small bites, no fat. And skip the fiction, please. Reality is far more interesting than wading through six hundred pages of some ghost writer’s imagined universe to figure out which imaginary character killed which other imaginary character. I want to read about Lady Gaga wearing a dress made out of a homeless guy’s gutted carcass because she cares deeply about the economy. Can your crime novel give me that? I didn’t think so.
My already-short attention span has been further shortened by the bite sized portions of the Internet, to the point where I can’t imagine reading more than one page on any particular topic unless I’m literally doing research.
To be fair, the only books I ever enjoyed were humor and biographies. But humor has mostly died as a book category. The exception is humor books written by women and apparently aimed at women. Men are getting their humor from Youtube.
The biography category is mostly tapped out too. I don’t need to read another book about yet another dead president. There simply aren’t that many fascinating historical characters. It was only a matter of time before biographers ran out of interesting dead people to write about.
Did a fascinating diet book just hit the digital shelves? Great. I’ll read the one-paragraph summary on the Internet. If I’m feeling ambitious I’ll Google the counter-arguments that say diets never work. But I’ll probably skip it altogether because the curse of being several decades into this earthly existence is that it’s easy to tell from the title when a book is complete bullshit.
Can you recommend a good book about how the (fill in the blank) are ruining the country? I hear enough of that in real life. Did someone do painstaking research and come up with a fascinating thesis about the future of the planet? Great. I’ll read the two-paragraph summary on Newser.com. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll read a full page about it on Huffingtonpost.com.
Business management books were hot for years. I probably helped kill that category by reminding the public that the primary skill of management involves claiming credit for the work of subordinates.
Thanks to technology, I predict that the book market will evolve from a one-author-per-book model into something that is more of a crowd effort. I don’t want to read one person’s thoughts for hundreds of pages. I want to see a model more like this blog, in which one person primes the pump with an idea and the public takes it in whatever direction makes sense, including changing the topic entirely. I’d like to see a book that changes every day, with the most interesting comments leading the change.
Something of that nature could work with fiction as well. I can imagine a book in which the “author” creates a starting point, or a framework, and wannabe writers take it from there, creating thousands of versions of that book, each with characters based on their own lives and personalities. The best efforts will get voted to the top.
Anyway, my main point is that the Internet will transform books into something we haven’t yet imagined.