There’s this strange phenomenon when it comes to the act of reading books. I mean modern society places a high value on reading: when we talk about books, it’s a sign of intellect, of value, of something worthwhile. And when someone claims that he or she has written a book, we give that person respect. Perhaps this is why many people whose careers doesn’t revolve around writing come out with books of their own: celebrities, politicians, doctors, athletes, etc. By coming out with a book of their own, it’s like saying to the whole world “Hey! I’m smart too!” Getting published is like the cherry on top of an already-impressive resume and adds validation to their success. But as much as we value book reading, how many actually takes the time to do so?
While I’m a voracious reader of books, it would be foolish of me to assume that everyone else is like me. Contrary to popular belief, I think our world is full of readers; just not the type that reads novels. Magazines, video games, comics, blogs, web pages... there’s a proliferation of reading material and people do read these stuff. When you hand them a book though, you can hear them sighing inwardly, and the air stirs with the unasked question: how many pages does it have? Novels, in their big, thick format, have a way of intimidating people. Some people find it an accomplishment if they read a book in a year (and one that’s not required reading, either for school or for work), even if it takes you less than a few days to finish reading one.
Despite its lack of readership, we nonetheless value book reading. I mean how many best-seller lists have we seen, and we may not like the author of the book but we’re nonetheless impressed by their accomplishment. One question we also fail to ask ourselves is if book X is on the best-seller list, why haven’t we read it? Or worse, it’s on our bookshelves, we just haven’t made the time to read it. We talk about book X to our friends, and they claim that they bought the book as well. Have they read it? Yes. Have they finished reading the novel? No. They stopped at this page and that (ranging from single digits to halfway of the book). There’s even the phenomenon of movie-adaptation novels. Just look at Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. I’m not talking about spoilers, but people who watch these movies usually buy the books they were based on. Why? I’m not really sure. Some actually attempt to read the books they bought. Others simply use it as a conversation piece, so that they can say that they have the books. But honestly, these people would prefer to watch the movie (and there’s nothing wrong with that). As an acquaintance of mine said, why bother reading the book when you can watch it on the big screen? Just don’t be pretentious about it.
On the other side of things, since we don’t take the time to read the books we judge, the release of a book isn’t as big as we make it out to be. Sure, you’ve come out with a book. It doesn’t mean you’re intellectual, you’re a gifted writer, or whatever other connotations you want to attach to it. First and foremost, the ability to get published isn’t a matter of skill, but a function of money. If I were a wealthy person, who’s to stop me from publishing my own book? The printer certainly won’t stop me, it’s business for them (especially if you pay on time). My PR would be happy as well for the reasons I stated above. My critics would be against it, but hey, they’re my critics. As for book reviewers, anyone can do a book review; I’ll just label them as critics. Bookstores won’t mind as long as I either pay for shelf space, or actually sell well (good PR substitutes as well). That’s not to say independent publishers are vanity publishers (“I print because I want to stroke my own ego.”), but when someone comes out with a book, I try to think what’s their agenda. And agendas vary; some want to pursue a literary intent (which may or may not be a good thing), some for propaganda purposes, others simply to entertain, to earn, to teach. Each has a different intent and it would be erroneous for us to conclude one general statement for all of them.