Here are the figures:
Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her 48,000
Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King 27,000
Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds 18,000
Louise Erdrich, The Round House 15,000
Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk 11,000
Seeing figures like this can be depressing. Of course, art should never be judged solely on measures of sales, but it just made me feel out-of-step with the society in which I live. Years ago, Philip Roth posited that, at most, there were 120,000 readers of serious fiction in this country. Today, not even Roth classifies himself as a serious fiction reader, having declared that he will no longer read fiction.
Last night, I took Sebastian (11) and Ellie (7) to a screening of THE CITY DARK, a documentary that explores the consequences of light pollution, which, especially in urban areas, diminishes our ability to look up at the sky at night at see the cosmos. (You can see the movie’s trailer here.) The visually-stunning documentary talked about the health consequences (both to humans, and others inhabiting our planet), but one question more than any other stayed in my mind afterwards.
Nearly every civilization before ours could look up at the night sky and feel dwarfed by the sheer majesty of stars in the firmament. How will it affect us, philosophically, to no longer experience that sense of being dwarfed by the cosmos?
Years ago, I read some column or another that suggested that we no longer give books as gifts with the expectation that the recipient will actually read them. To be fair, the book in question was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Instead, the columnist suggested that when we give a nice leather-bound volume to Aunt Sally or Uncle Joe, it is given as a complement, suggesting that we’d like to think Sally or Joe is capable of reading the book.
But what happens after we cease the charade of thinking ourselves as a race of people actually capable of reading a great novel?
I’ve been working a lot on novel revisions, which is one of the reasons I haven’t blogged much lately. One of the questions I’ve inserted into the particular novel is what are the consequences of the eclipse of the book. Perhaps it’s a question I should insert more forcefully into the work, but what does it mean when one no longer looks at oneself as being capable of reading, say, a 250-page novel? The book might very well have been the most important “discovery” invented by man, enabling people to hold within their hands a vast compendium of human thought. But what good is it as we ebb closer to our post-literate age?