It’s funny. We gripe about the world. There’s nothing to watch on TV. The music on the radio is lousy. Tomatoes in the store have no flavor. Look at what kids are wearing! And there are too many books.
Screech! Huh, wha—?
There are too many books! Look at all the dreck, the lousy trash, the useless mind-numbing, the icky, the immoral volumes filling the bookstore shelves. (And that’s just what the publishers and newspaper book reviewers are saying.)
For those of us who are voracious readers, we are living in the best of all possible worlds. There are lots and lots of books. There are hordes of new books coming out every year, heck, every day! And they are growing less expensive, much less expensive, unless yo live in a place where gatekeepers of some kind keep prices high in order to protect certain subgroups of publishers or writers. OK, if you live on an island or continent where everything has to be imported, prices are still higher than elsewhere, but look at what you can snag for free from Project Gutenberg and other sites. And used books are cheap, oh so cheap.
But there are too many bad books floating around. Or so it is announced, frequently. Good books are properly checked and accredited, “curated” for the benefit of the reading public. All this other stuff is *wave hankie with little finger sticking out* plebian. (Or blocked by the government for the protection and safety of the People, lest they be led astray by bad ideas and wrong thoughts.)
To which I say “thpppth.” The gatekeepers and curators have not read a lot of what was published before 1920, it seems. Or after, given the pulp romances and crime novels, the adventure tales, the “adult westerns”, the women’s novels of the 1800s, Ned Buntline’s writings, the serial writers besides Dickens, and so on. Social reformers of the late 1880s-1890s decried the “true crime” and detective stories for making the criminal life seem romantic and appealing, or romances and serials for making poor workers greedy for material goods and for imitating their “betters.”
(As an aside, one complaint when corsets became objects of mass consumption was that it was much harder to tell an upper-class woman from her social inferiors since all of them now had hourglass figures.)
Now that self publishing has grown into a serious professional business, able to produce books that look just like titles from Major Imprints, and very often with better copy-editing and internal formatting, the Old School publishers and cultural critics have shifted to the argument that real books of lasting value are being drowned by the sea of cheap [crap]. They forget that the Great Works of Literature have always been issued into a sea of other stuff. it’s just that before now today, the pipeline had move valves on it. Today, well, there’s Wattpad, there’s Amazon, there’s CreateSpace and LiveJournal and blogs and fora, and . . . And readers do not really care that much where their reading material comes from.
This is a great time to be a reader. Genres once thought dead are returning to life, writers are experimenting with ideas and styles and you can pretty much find anything and everything if you look hard enough. And because the cost of paper, ink, and pixels have dropped, readers can sample a wide variety of authors from all sorts of presses and decide what they like. And writers can price their wares low enough to allow voracious readers on tight budgets to read. And libraries can expand their electronic as well as print holdings, even though the Big Imprints are keeping prices high. Or rather, higher than the electronic market seems to suggest is realistic, especially for fiction. Non-fiction is a different beast, although in some non-fiction genres that is changing as well.
Yes, there is a lot of, um, less-than-great literature bobbing around today. As has always been. Go back and look at the nasty political and religious cartoons pumped out during the 1500s and 1600s. Go read the broadsheets sold by street vendors in the 1700s and look at the cartoons by Cruickshank and others. Or Victorian novels and serial adventures. Not just the ones taught in literature class, but the others, the ones that are preserved on Project Gutenberg and other web archives.
So much for carefully curated literature.