Kelly Simmons, author of the new novel Standing Still, is sitting in for me today! Read the giveaway details at the end of this post:
In a great article recently in the New York Times fiction reading has finally been declared as being on the rise. The folks in charge of the National Endowment for the Arts credit community-based reading efforts, book clubs, and popular franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight for this turnaround.
We should all rejoice at this news, indeed. But . . . popular franchises driving reading? Ouch. That’s like fast-food driving eating. That’s like sequels driving movie-going. That’s like . . . oh crap, that’s America, isn’t it?!
One of the biggest challenges I face with my daughters is convincing them to read books that aren’t series. (That, and convincing them that normal high school freshmen don’t wear designer dresses and drink Bellinis like they do on Gossip Girl.) But they’re young, and young readers have loved lining up numbered books on their bookshelves since Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. But what about adults? Grown men and women so hungry for sameness, for a “sure thing”, that they read the same franchises and authors over and over and over again with a blind eye to their flaws. (Confession: in my youth I was a Kurt Vonnegut junkie. And you?)
But book clubs don’t do this – they support diversity, they embrace new authors, they mix it up. Don’t they? Well . . . I visited 86 clubs in 2008, promoting my debut novel Standing Still, and while I loved every minute of it (except for getting hopelessly lost in Maryland, where you apparently sometimes need to take the Beltway East when you’re heading West –who knew?) I was truly shocked by how many well-known titles were being chosen month after month. It seemed only books that were heavily promoted by the publisher, heavily reviewed by lots of media , and heavily blurbed with quotes from other authors were being picked. Worthy books, sometimes. But very, very, popular worthy books. And, yes, the same books did seem to be selected by every club I visited. (If I heard the words “Three Cups of Tea” one more time I thought I was going to choke on a cinnamon stick.) The bottom line: in that kind of environment, I had to consider myself extremely fortunate to have been chosen by any book group at all. Even though Standing Still, with its cynical view of marriage, its romantic view of activism and kidnapping, its flawed, panic attack-laden main character and its ambiguous plotting and ending, is a book guaranteed to spark discussion and debate. Even though I’d gotten some truly glowing reviews. Even though the book clubs raved and said it was like a “simpler starker Bel Canto.” I was flat-out lucky to be getting considered, and I was humbled down to my bones once again.
What happened to me is by now a familiar lament. My book didn’t have an advertising budget. My handful of glowing reviews all arrived too late to be placed on the jacket cover (they had to be saved for the paperback.) And no famous writer wrote me a fawning quote for my cover because I’ve never canoodled with any famous writers, other than sitting next to Tom Wolfe at an Amtrak station. (And yes that’s how it’s done – through favors, just like Illinois politicians. Oh, don’t act so shocked!)
Yes, even book group members, as intelligent and independent-thinking a group as you could hope to find, are looking for guidance. For the comfort of someone else’s belief to inform their decisions. That’s not bad, that’s just human. And we all do it, even those of us who know better.
What I hope you realize, though, is the power you have as an influencer yourself. Surely your friends ask for your opinion on what to read all the time. And is there any point in recommending something everyone else is reading? Don’t people depend on you to go a little deeper? After all, when you ask a stylish friend where to get a great fitting pair of jeans for Saturday night, do you really want her to whisper “Gap” in your ear?
Kelly Simmons, a former journalist and advertising creative director, is the author of Standing Still, in paperback February 10, and coming soon, The Bird House. She visits as many book clubs as she can (here’s a great article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about her visiting clubs). And she’s now offering an exclusive Book Group DVD to those she can’t. For more information, see her website or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now for the giveaway! Win an autographed paperback copy of Kelly’s new book, Standing Still! From the product description on amazon.com: ”A riveting debut novel that will appeal to fans of Sue Miller and Janet Fitch, Standing Still is a powerful exploration of the darker side of mother-hood and marriage.”
Leave a comment here by Monday, Feb. 9th, for a single entry, or mention the giveaway on your blog (send me the link) and be entered twice. Good Luck!
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