I sometimes wonder the choice of books that publishers place into print. Does the world really need another book on Diana the (dead and noble) princess? Or a million copies of the latest romance churn’em? Or a further expose of the financial scandal on Wall Street? Or the latest fad diet plan in which prunes are eaten on alternate Thursdays except when raining?
In a sense, every bookseller — every business — practices a sort of self-censorship in choosing which product to market or which product not to market. It’s not to say, one can’t go elsewhere to find the product that is not on the shelves. Every publisher is free to publish as it chooses; every business is able to select among a wide variety of products which ones to market.
However, when there are numerous, multiple copies of “Diana the Dead and Noble Princess” placed on the shelves, what happens to the books on dynamics of population expansion, esoteric mathematics, women in armed forces, and art catalogs? Those books are in larger part never seen. They are individually ordered, collected, sometimes they show in small independent bookstores, at the thrift shops, on discard tables of chain bookstores. Sometimes they appear at the library — sometimes seen in book reviews.
I believe that the market for these “thinking” types of books is very small. The other half of the “publish well” argument is “read well.” It matters not only the reading, but reading well. So… who decides what’s worth publishing and what’s worth reading?
Much of what drives the book business, like everything else, is economics. How much does popular demand for the latest potboiler drive the market? There are numerous other and overlapping factors beyond economics: need, information, and sheer delight in the written word. I think I mixed apples and oranges here, but I just can’t figure out how books endure unless there is an appreciation for the written word. Does that appreciation extend to the latest potboiler? Why is there there is contentment with the inferior when so much better is available?.
There are two issues here: Is there an appreciation for the written word? Does it extend to obviously poorly written books? Maybe I’m off-target, but I think it’s extremely important not only to read, but to read intelligently. I despise wading through potboilers, diet, financial scandal, romance, popular biography books. And I’d like to think I take sheer delight in the written word. I would like to think that publishers also take delight in the written word.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around all the factors. I’m also trying to figure out why I spend so much time book searching in the cracks: small independent bookstores, thrift shops, discard tables, libraries, and catalogs. Read, sort, sift, cull, evaluate. The really good books shouldn’t be so, well… invisible.
The Chisholm Trail Bookstore