Books are dead–or so the smart-money boys say. It seems that everyone has a short attention span nowadays, they argue, sufficient only to absorb a Tweet or a sound bite.
But if that’s so, why are book authors so in demand on television talk shows, from Oprah to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert to Charlie Rose?
Reason: Books remain our society’s primary credentialing mechanism. If you don’t have a book, there’s no reason to pay attention to what you have to say.
Without a book, you just aren’t a part of the national conversation. That’s why Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney have all rushed to get their stories behind hardcovers, following the path twice trodden by President Barack Obama.
Consider an example from popular culture. The recent movie Julie & Julia concerns a young woman who, with time on her hands, decides to make every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After each culinary effort, Julie writes a blog posting about the result.
Her mother complains: “Why are you doing this? No one is reading your blog.” But in time, an article about Julie’s experiment appears in The New York Times. Suddenly, she is inundated with offers from publishers to write a book, which she does. She is no longer a nobody, she announces to her husband. “I am a writer.”
She has joined the national conversation.
Business executives are hardly immune to the lure of book publishing. Ever since Lee Iacocca’s 1984 publication of his autobiography, Iacocca, CEOs have understood that they can help promote themselves and their company’s brand by writing a book. and if they don’t do it, a legion of business writers stands ready to help with such diverse efforts as David Magee’s Turnaround (on Carlos Ghosn at Nissan) and William Holstein’s Why GM Matters.
For all these reasons, it’s important that there continue to be reporting on book publishing. But the review coverage in national publications continues to decline: Both The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post have recently discontinued their stand-alone books sections, while other publications have opted to have little books coverage at all.
Ironically, then, it will be bloggers and denizens of the Web who will play a big role in alerting readers to goings-on in the world of books. This blog will be one of those that takes up the torch.