March 2019 . . . .

“Turn and face the strange . . . changes”

I recently let my blog lapse after ten faithful years of monthly input. Electrons don’t actually decay, so this is nothing like no longer writing in a diary, placing the little book in a drawer and pulling it out years later for a nostalgic look and a reminiscent chuckle. Rather, it’s like placing the little book in a box in your shed and finding out years from now that sixteen or seventeen generations of mice made a home in the box and chewed your diary to make paper-scrap lining for their beds. The blog is just . . . gone. Or as gone as my current technical capabilities can muster a search for it.

And here’s why it’s gone. I found that whatever impetus I may have had those many years ago to broadcast episodes of my feelings into the void was no longer satisfied. Primal screaming (or in my case, primal muttering) stopped having the results I’d hoped it would. No one was coming out of the woodwork to tell me what a fabulous thing my personal blog was, and how it was helping them change their criminal ways and find enlightenment. We’re a curious species, but not that curious. And we’re lazy — the blog phase of our cultural demise has moved onto and even past podcasts of similar mundane content. Everyone who would read or listen to such . . . product is too busy creating such product. In a world of prospective writers, why aren’t we reading?

Of course we’re reading. More than ever, if you believe the articles that talk about the new twists in the publishing industry. Just not this self-serving pseudo-revelation stuff in our online diaries that probably was never meant to be shared. In fact, over a million books were self-published last year. Each one representing a writer who wanted to be read, in search of an audience. Were all of them . . . satisfied? I don’t know — the report about the numbers didn’t delve that deeply into the response of the authors to their books being out there on virtual shelves. They did talk about median incomes of authors and such. And they did talk about readers, as they always do, as buyers of books, as customers.

A shame, to be mislabeled like that. Car buyers are almost always referred to as drivers. Purchasers of houses as “homeowners.” Why isn’t the relationship between author and reader more direct, and reflective of the feeling one has for the . . . text? Why does the book and the selling of same always feel disconnected from the people who create and the people who love, hate, learn, disagree, dismiss, and even burn (metaphorically speaking, of course) the books? We’re readers, after all.

The little bookstores get it. They entreat us to read, even at the expense of everything else. Eat, sleep, read, repeat, they suggest. Good idea. And they have suggestions about what to read, which are also helpful. There’s nothing here you don’t already know. But, all of those self-published books. How do we find them? The folks at Algorhythm dot com (wink, wink) have their ways, but they aren’t my ways. I am a browser, a Luddite, something resembling a Neanderthal hunter on the steppe with my spear and not much else, wandering shelves of volumes looking for words that stand out to me. Not “key words,” not “others like you have bought this,” (how in the hell do they think that they know what I am like, after all?) or even “others who bought this also bought this” (which makes slightly more sense in that some people like chocolate and would therefore possibly like . . . other chocolate) but some distinct yet ineffable . . . coordinating device between my eyes and brain that instructs my hand to reach out and gently grasp the book and bring it closer, tells my other hand to adjust my glasses farther up my nose so that I can see the cover, and now open the book and now read.

But bookstores they cannot handle the influx of self-publishing, can they? Nor should we expect them to try. Just stay in business, little stores. Do what you can. Be there for us, so we have somewhere less maddening in the world to go.

Yep. It’s going to require some change in our publishing to reading path to get to those millions of self-published books. A . . . tool that helps us see . . . virtual shelves of all those books brought to life by these perspicacious writers who “if you want to get something done right, do it yourself.” We can’t rely on the old-school publishing industry — in flux if not turmoil over the changes that have taken place since the technology of publishing began to be more readily available to the writers of books a dozen or so years back — for this. Nor can we look to the mighty online shopping mall. They’re not quite ready to embrace the idea that readers don’t just search for books, don’t always want selections chosen for them, pointed out to them.

We want to browse for books. Not browsing like “surfing,” but browsing like “wandering.” Browsing like the pleasurable feeling when you find a bookstore in a town you’re visiting, and it’s open and your dinner plans are for later, so there’s some time to go in and look around — just a little; no I won’t buy anything, I know I have a bunch of titles on the bedside table I haven’t read yet, but then there’s this one volume on a shelf that you can’t resist taking down and it looks like it just might be beautiful and I don’t want to find myself someday with that twenty dollars sitting unspent in my wallet on my deathbed.