The crowd's atmosphere was that of a funeral of someone much beloved who had died before his time. There were 52 people in a room that sat five times as many. The group mostly ancient Upper West Side types--I was the youngest in the room by twenty years--who seemed to just be there for some free entertainment before bed time. The event space was boring, like the "entertainment" room at an old folk's home used for bingo games, overly bright with uncomfortable chairs haphazardly lined up in a semi-circle in front of a one foot high "stage." No one was buzzing, there was no excited anticipatory atmosphere like there would be if people were about to see a rock show or some stand-up comedy or certainly a sporting event. It was just a bunch of people quietly whispering, eating stale granola bars, rustling papers, and waiting.
I was at a book reading and signing for one of the hottest authors in America, a first-time novelist with a book already being hailed as THE debut novel of the year if not THE book of the year. A book that had been getting big time reviews and blurbs from anyone and everyone you could name in the "literary" industry. A book that currently sat in the top 1000 on Amazon (which is actually not bad considering around 100 spots are currently taken up by various Steig Larsson books in countless formats). This much ballyhooed book had been out for nearly two months, but this would amazingly be the author's first and only New York City appearance. The event was held at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble, perhaps their biggest and best location in Manhattan if not America. They promoted fairly heavily for it. I expected a line out the door.
Instead I got the funeral parlor.
I guess it's true that no one reads anymore. It's just like they say. "They" being those insufferable literary snobs--usually newspaper columnists, occasionally wags on boring cable news channels, certainly stuffy liberal arts college professors--always bemoaning that very fact.
But is that really the case? It sure doesn't seem to be. In fact, people seem to read more now than ever before. Get on the subway and every single person has their head down reading something on their iPad or Kindle. Walk the streets looking around and you'll be the only person with your head up, everyone else staring down at their iPhone or Blackberry, nearly bumping into you so focused are they. Shit, simply try to ask your significant other a question tonight and I bet you need to repeat it a second or third time, so committed is he or she to what they are currently perusing. True, even if most people are reading all day long now they are reading things like e-mails, texts, websites, online magazines, and blog articles. But they ARE reading. So perhaps it's true that no one reads novels any more, but that's for one simple reason:
Most novels today are boring.
Who has time to waste several days if not weeks dedicated to one novel when one can spend that same time reading countless things that are actually entertaining? This isn't 1750, the world is not bereft of words, and thus, there's no reason to read something anymore that doesn't wildly entertain you from start to finish. Which has sadly become the case with most "literary" efforts in the year 2010.
"How to Fail: The Self Hurt Guide" shakes up the staid book establishment, capitalizing on the way people consume written entertainment nowadays. Each chapter of "How to Fail" is a perfect single serving of entertainment able to be read while commuting to work, waiting in line, or even on your lunch break. From How to Fail to Make Your Parents Proud of You to How to Fail to Do Something Productive All Day to How to Fail in Love to How to Fail All the Way to Rock Bottom to even more ribald "footchapters" such as How to Masturbate at Work, How to Develop an Addiction, How to Get Usurped by Your Girlfriend's Ex, and How to Acquire the STD That's Right for You there's not an aspect of life not tackled and offered up a terrific non-solution for. Yet these single servings are all still linked as a cohesive whole--a wildly entertaining satiric novel--telling the story of 30-year-old Stu Fish's attempt to find success in this modern world.
I loved writing "How to Fail" and I think you'll love reading "How to Fail." Maybe it'll be the one and only book you read all year!
September 16, 2010