Your Attention Please: The Battle For Readership
My pal Porl just bought his first Kindle and thinks of it as ‘succumbing’ – I say read by any means necessary. Of the various devices above, I can theoretically read on all except one – but I don’t. Books and a Kindle are enough.
Reading is declining in general. A teacher from Seattle tells me there is now a new generation of young Americans who do not read at all. UK figures show a startling drop in reading too. The idea that books could hold their own beside every other form of entertainment is now starting to look like a pipe dream.
Reading is not easy. Like restoration comedy, Shakespeare and musique concrète it takes a fair amount of patience to get the best out of it, and in the first two cases it’s worth the effort.
Reading is a habit. Break it and you have to be led back. Restart it and you need training wheels again for the first few days. Reading is not like broccoli. You don’t consume it because it’s good for you, but because you love it.
Reading has new competition. Longform TV dramas like ‘Gomorrah’, ‘Money Heist’ or ‘Big Little Lies’ are proving every bit as satisfactory as a good book.
But the transfer of our valuable time to television may not prove to be a permanent switch. Network viewing figures are plunging and streaming TV is volatile. Netflix’s gloss is starting to tarnish and they’re still deep in debt. I recently started box-setting ‘Veep’, and halfway through its Sky licence expired. Now I can’t find the other half anywhere.
And my Kindle reading pattern is changing. I have around a thousand books on it, a lot of them research (it’s like Arthur Bryant’s bookshelves in there) but many of the novels I’ve started I have yet to finish.
The Poisonwood Bible
The Collected Jules Verne
Fire From Heaven
…I appear to have stopped them all around page 60, not because I’m not enjoying them but because I’ve hit a tricky patch and have set it aside, where before I would have ploughed on through.
Has my reawoken viewing habit affected my attention span, or am I demanding too much from a book now? A novel is not a multi-million dollar project developed by dozens of people over years but the product of a lone writer hopefully making a sale to a publishing house.
Book are still affordable enough to be dumped if you’re not enjoying them. The problem – for a generation at least – may be in getting readers to pick one up at all.