Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How my last post signals the death of reading

This may come as a shock, but my blog is not one of the most frequently-trafficked sites on the Internet. When I put out a new post, typically I get between 80-100 visits to the site in the next 48 hours, at least 20 of which I assume are my anonymous reader checking to see if I've updated anything or responded to his comments. After posting about a dumb teen television show, though, I got about 200 visits. I can't imagine why. Are there people out there with Google Alerts for everything related to 13 Reasons Why, just waiting to pounce anytime anywhere in the world mentions the show?

The fact is that even though I'm a writer who reads more than the average American,  I still watch a lot of Netflix. It offers things a book can't. One major advantage it offers over books is the change to experience fiction in real-time with Mrs. Heretic. We're currently trying, for the second time this year, to read a book together (Jennifer Egan's Visit from the Goon Squad). She tried to talk to me about it yesterday, but I wasn't caught up to where she is yet. When we watch Game of Thrones, we both experience everything at the same time. It makes the experience far more rewarding and social. Add in all the people in the office who've seen the show and are talking about it. Everyone likes to belong once in a while, even misanthropes like me.

Book clubs just don't seem to cut it. It is nice to read books on the recommendation of friends and then possibly discuss them over a cigar. (Did I mention I smoked a cigar the other day? I'm very manly now.) But a moderated group of people with a list of questions to discuss has never really excited me much. Books are just hard to transfer into social topics of conversation like a series you can all watch at once and comment along to on social media.
When you want to be manly AF while discussing the teen drama you just watched

Why is this? It wasn't always this way. Salons used to be pretty much nothing but big book clubs, and they were the best social gathering in town. Are we (a pronoun I'm included in) just dumber?

TV is easy to watch. It requires little effort. Everyone else is doing it, so it brings social acceptance. Books are hard. No wonder a staggering percentage of adults do not read books. I'm going to guess it will get worse. There is hardly any shame any more in not being a reader.

This site is far too small to take as a data point, but consider this: This is a blog about writing. Presumably, the few people who read it care about literature. When I posted about Viet Thanh Nguyen's views on the workshop--the central issue of this blog--I got maybe 60 views. I got 200 for some throwaway stuff on a teenage show. Even in communities that value reading, streaming video is more popular than reading.


  1. Men generally don't read novels. I found this when I worked at Barnes & Noble. Women went for novels (and came to book clubs), men read that brand of self-help that promises to make one rich, or about 'history.' Video killed the radio star. And radio and video killed the novel. You don't even shed a tear, I guess, for the death of the epic poem!

    I love film as an opportunity to experience something together, Now that we're long married, Mrs. Anonymous doesn't often watch films with me, except accidentally. I don't get that because I have a decent collection of Murnau and Lang and Eisenstein.

    1. Perhaps you should wait for a sequel to the Brown Bunny to ask Mrs. Anonymous out on a date.

  2. When I stopped blogging competitive reality shows (most significantly Top Chef and Project Runway), my hits took a nosedive. In my defense, I evolved from straight recaps to doing research on side issues to writing about how the shows constructed a narrative using various tropes (the loser edit, the shock boot, the ugly duckling).

    These days I get mostly students, I suspect (and people looking for African girls sex - god I loved the search terms list, before increased privacy gutted it - thanks to Taiye Selasie's magnificent story "The Sex Lives of African Girls") (and bots, lots of bots, I can tell because they come in sequence over a period of days). I can tell when some teacher assigns a particular story. My #1 all time viewed post is about a yogurt commercial. Again in my defense, it featured a pretty cool poem, and was actually a great commercial; I still watch it from time to time.

    I don't really think it's the death of reading - that's been the claim for decades, but look at kids going crazy for fantasy trilogies. Then again, I've always been a major TV watcher, so I guess I again am defending myself :) I've never understood the problem so many people have with tv. Bad tv, sure (I come from the days of Petticoat Junction and Hogan's Heroes, I know whence I speak). But there's some great TV too. And talk about a way to see what's on people's minds - teenage suicide, I guess. I haven't seen the show, but when I finish my current re-watch of Mad Men, I'm going to give it a shot. Then I'll bump your post count up even more!

    btw, I always assumed you knew who your "anonymous commenter" was. I'm surprised to find you don't.

    1. I agree a lot of TV is excellent. Which may be why it's an even greater threat to reading--if you can get from Mad Men what you used to have to get from Pulitzer Prize winners, that means TV is even pushing in on intellectual turf. It certainly makes it a lot easier to justify watching 30 hours of a show in a row. In any event, books will certainly continue to live a troubled existence for a while longer, but their vitality in the culture is pretty anemic right now. When was the last time time a novel played a big role in public discourse on an issue?

      I wasn't following you in the day when you did TV, but your approach sounds interesting. It's also good for the blogger, I've found, to write about things that don't tax me as much once in a while.

      I get bots, too. 134 people from Russia all accessed my blog in five minutes? Probably not. It's depressing to think how many of the few hits I get are probably from bots.

      I thought I knew who my anonymous commenter was, but he's such a protean intellect, I'm not sure anymore...