Another hard blow for culture: Books are written to be read

Amazon is changing its royalty policy for borrowed books from a per-book system to a per-page-read system. It’s a move that is widely supported by KPD Select authors (you know, the people it affects), but – like any decision Amazon has ever made – criticism hails from a variety of camps. One of them is the grand league of cultural patronage, who apparently believe that literature is far too high-minded a thing to be judged (or paid) according to how much of it readers can get through, before they throw their Kindle against the wall.

What is the world coming to, after all, if books are written to be read, instead of as pieces of art, cultural observation and a testament to humanity?

 

I’m going to admit something here: I love literature. If pressed, I’d even admit that I love lit fic above all genre fiction, and that’s what I write! In the debates on the value of lit fic versus genre, I regularly come down on the side of literature and I do genuinely believe in its value for humanity as a whole. A value that does go beyond that of most genre fiction.

But literature is written for readers! In a big, big way! The moment it stops being written for human consumption, or only to be read by literature professors to torture their students with, then what’s the point?

As numerous studies show, reading high quality literature increases empathy, intelligence, the ability to communicate and understand the world. Yes. It does all that. But the emphasis is on READING literature. The mere fact that it exists as some kind of abstract piece of art means nothing to anybody, except possibly the self-involved, post-modern writer who truly believes his genius shines too bright for any reader to understand.

All the greats wrote stories for readers. The fact that a book is enjoyable is really not in any way a contraction to quality. Shakespeare himself wrote for the lowest, least educated group of his time, after all, commoners, looking for a good time drinking ale in a packed theater. Jane Austen, although maybe a little challenging to today’s reader, was well-loved by her readers and a great commercial success. And yes, the lit-scene is full of snobby idiots. Case in point: Fantasy and sci-fi can be just as literary as the great realists are — read some Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick or Ursula K. LeGuin for great examples.

But literature is a great thing. It’s a great thing because we read it, and we fall in love and throughout its pages, it changes us, it helps us to understand, finds words for all those feelings and ideas that have been clanking around unnamed in our subconscious. And I’m not saying it doesn’t take work sometimes. You sort of have to train yourself to become good at reading lit fic — but that’s really not a problem, cause you also have to work on playing video games before you’re any good, or on sports or painting or any fulfilling hobby people might have. And still they are all there to enrich human life, to exist in a vacuum for the ultra-educated.

So listen culture snobs, the best literature has always been the books readers also connect with. Bringing the focus of writing – yes, even writing literature – back to the people is the best thing that could ever happen to it. People are smarter, more emotionally intelligent and better equipped to understand the big questions than you will ever know. And don’t you effing throw Twilight and 50 Shades back at me. People are also horny, so what? Nobody is just one thing.

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