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Reading is a Waste of Time

At lunch on Saturday, my sister-in-law (one of the smartest, most well-read people I know) told me she doesn't read fiction much anymore. "I feel like it's a waste of time." Her husband agreed. He hasn't read a novel in years and has no plans to. She's a professor of law, and he is a software engineer. These are not stupid people. They read articles relating to work, or non-fiction. She has a Kindle. He reads exclusively on the Internet.

A few weeks ago, my neighborhood had a community garage sale. Only two houses in thirty-eight had any books for sale. I sold not even a single fiction book, but the cookbooks went in record time. Consulting the other book seller, I found that he hadn't sold any books either (until I came along and bought four). Even when offered for free at the end of the sale, no one wanted the books.

Our neighborhood book club broke up this Spring, due to a lack of interest.

This bothers me.

Maybe it disturbs me because reading is such an important part of my own life. My house would feel empty without the library full of books. Lazy Saturdays would be sad without a good novel to curl up with. I've learned many things from reading. I've found friends, sympathy, new hobbies and a love of prose that borders on worship. Reading relaxes me and takes me places nothing else does. Even still, I find it more and more difficult to find books that are well written, imaginative, and fresh. I drop in and out of Doubleday Book Club because pretty much everything they sell (all best-sellers, mind you) is the kind of crap that really IS a waste of time to read. I join when they offer five books for 99 cents and free-shipping, spend hours finding the few decent books on offer and then cancel as soon as I can.

I can't imagine not writing fiction (though I also write a fair bit of non-fiction, and get paid much more for it) but lately I've thought of giving up writing erotica for the same reason my sister-in-law has given up reading fiction-the growing feeling it's a waste of time.

What I've learned is that most people who still do read want it quick, easy and familiar. They want fast-food erotica (porn). Readers of erotica have gotten used to porn labeled as erotica and now want it fast and dirty with plots much like in porno films. If the point is to get off, anything else seems like a waste of time. If someone is not cumming or close to it by page two, they move on.

Many editors are like strip-mall builders. They've learned that people want McDonald's, Chili's and TGI Fridays and they give it to them. Publishers don't care about much beside the bottom line (and if they say they do, they're lying) so they continue to urge more of the same on editors and writers and the world at large. Porn is big business, and they want a part of the action. Literary erotica is dying out right along with mom and pop stores and book clubs.

I won't write porn because I don't like it. I don't care how well written it is (and some of it isn't terrible), it's still basic, like a quarter-pounder or your corner Walmart's garden center. It's still about as challenging and thought provoking as a comic book or the latest Danielle Steele best-seller. It's still about inserting part A into part B and cumming as fast as you can.

I once wrote a story that I spent hours on, days even. I worked it over at least twenty times. In the end, I think it is one of the best things to ever come from my pen. But, I knew the publisher interested in my work probably wouldn't take it. It was too good. Seriously. So, I spent about twenty minutes writing something else, something I knew they would like. I didn't even edit it. It was my own little experiment. What happened was exactly what I thought would happen-the publisher loved my tossed off nothing of a story (which was at least funny) but thought the literary piece was way above the head's of their readers. Sad. Sad. Sad. It didn't make me feel any better to hear that every editor involved in the reading group at the publisher thought my other piece (the good one) was one the the best works of erotica they'd ever read. No one would get to read it in one of their books.

By reducing sex to a catalog of parts and an accepted set of behaviors in a format as easy to handle as eating a bag of chips, readers distance themselves from the emotions of sex. This enables people to hide from themselves while feeling daring and worldly. But that's another topic.

So, I'm still writing. I am working on a new novel and one day would like to finish my Oliver series. But, the days of agonizing over characterizations, fresh approaches and every single word of prose in my erotica may be over. It's a waste of time.

2 comments:

  1. One of the oddities of my life these last few years is that I haven't been reading much. Not really READING. And I've been an obsessive reader since a very young age, having taught myself to read before kindergarten. I just haven't been able to concentrate enough, or have been too distracted by struggling to figure out my submissive existence. Or something like that. But lately I was snared by "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides while on vacation. It was at a place where you'd think I'd be doing something else, but it was also an ideal setting for reading about the destruction of Smyrna, and Greek immigrants, and recreating oneself, whether due to geographical or sexual dislocation.

    Of course, now that I'm home I keep getting distracted again. But I highly recommend the book. The writing is so delicious you can almost chew it.

    As for being appreciated... although I joke about writing smut, in fact I fear my pieces are too literary to qualify. Erotica, yes, and "hot" I'm told. But I follow the arrows of my own arousal, and I'm as much interested in form and flow and language and metaphor as anything else. If you get off on it, too, then that's a bonus. The important thing is whether it pleases the sadist, my most demanding critic.

    Now that I've had a story published offline, I'm trying to submit more pieces. Since they have usually been written for the fiend, they belong to him, and I feel it is only right to ask his permission before sending them off. To my latest request, he said "You may submit it. Probably too good for them, but go ahead anyway." Well yes, he's a bit of a snob, and convinced that he is the only one to see my true worth. But I do know that my style is different from most everyone else in the genre, and many editors might think it too literary.

    I am very lucky that M. Christian does appreciate me enough to have seen a place for me in his S&M anthology. Will anyone else? Hard to say. But the pay isn't good enough (or else my rate of production not fast enough) for me to offer under my name anything I can't be proud of. Of course, if I stay unemployed for an extended length of time, I may be grateful for whatever I can get, so check back with me in a year...

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  2. I enjoyed "Middlesex", but found myself waiting for something MORE to happen, so ultimately was disappointed in it. Lovely writing though. Smart and almost lyrical.

    I just read "Bees And Mist" and highly recommend it for its fairy-tale, magical realism prose and satisfying story. I also loved "The Passage", a rockin' horror novel reminiscent of "The Stand", for its fresh, more realistic (if that's possible) approach to the over-done, romantic vampire stories.

    As for the rest, I'm cool with it, just rather sad over the whole thing. But, I'll get over it. Like you, I'll always write. I still get published though I submit nothing. Editors find me and the ones who do are the ones I most wish to work with because they break free of the bullshit and march to their own drummers, like I do.

    I'm working on a chick-lit novel. Any interest in being a test reader? It's a total departure. I am like an experienced sailor trying to navigate in a row-boat in the middle of a hurricane, blind-folded. I could use a bit of honest reaction.

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