Friday, September 18, 2009

Do your beliefs affect your reading?

There seem to have been some really interesting topics of late over on the book club forum, like the one I discussed the other day about what I have learnt from books. One that I am finding particularly interesting at the moment is whether our beliefs influence the type of books that we read. For beliefs you can read religion. I am aware that to some, religion is a touchy subject, but I have found myself fascinated by this thread and the answers that members have given.

They are for the most part talking about fiction as opposed to non fiction, as the majority of members prefer this type of book, but a glance through my "I have read this year" list will show that I read both, although this has not always been the case. There was a time not that long ago, when I read nothing but non fiction, necessitated by the fact that I was writing a book of this genre. Non fiction of course covers many different areas, but the type of books that I read at that time (and my library is still dominated by these) were mind, body and spirit, religion and alternative history, with a healthy dose of science (mainly books on human evolution and genetics, which I studied for a year - in rudimentary form, via Birkbeck). Unlike most of the other members, I therefore answered the question from the perspective of both fiction and non fiction.

While those who read mostly fiction stated that in the main their beliefs did not effect their reading, when I thought about it, the opposite is true with me. They much colour what I read. I find myself actively seeking out books (like The Shack for example) that reinforce my views. Books that examine the human condition and our views of God form an important part of my reading. Books such as Conversations with God, the works of Eckhart Tolle and when it comes to fiction, books about other countries and cultures and days past - the other day I bought six books, two of which were about the Salem Witch trials, and one about a woman in China who decides she longer wants to be a Communist. This year I have also read books on Afghanistan and Northern Ireland - all books that look at the motivations of the character within, which are in their way, tales of how the characters faith was tested. Reading such things helps in a strange sort of way to strengthen your own faith, when you see that the trials that these characters go through and the growth and learning that they experience.

It makes me wonder though whether the other members are being really honest in their own assessment - after all we have this interest in human affairs, it is what makes us human in the first place. To me an interest in humanity is the same thing as an interest in spirituality, because well, we are all spiritual beings whether we like to admit it or not. I have learnt over the years however that when it comes to faith and belief, many people do not appear to know the difference between religion and spirituality, tarring them with the same brush. That then is the key, for I view the two things are separate entities where others believe they are the same. So, what do you think, do your beliefs affect your reading, and if so how?

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Lost Symbol - a symbol of a lost industry

With the release of Dan Brown's long awaited novel "The Lost Symbol" tomorrow, book stores and supermarkets are no doubt expecting a surge of interest, not to mention the ringing of tills. This is excellent news for Brown and his agent, and good news for his fans, but is it such good news for the stores? When what has been touted to become the decade's best selling novel is sold at half price (£9.49 instead of the cover price of £18.99), perhaps not. When one thinks of the beleaguered book sellers placing these books into carrier bags and smiling as they take the money, none of which will add to their company's profits, then it all looks rather farcical. A bit like the Curry's superstore which opened in Croydon at the weekend with queues a quarter of a mile long so that customers could buy half price televisions that actually cost the company money rather than earning them any.

This book is no different. Make no mistake - Brown, his publisher and his agent will be about the only ones to profit from this farce. Even with a discount that must be a minimum of 60 percent. Anyone with the slightest understanding of business (not to mention a few brain cells - one would do) can surely see that it is impossible for the book sellers to continue in this mode. Even with that high discount (which will eat heavily into the publisher's own profits, even though there are unlikely to be high returns), what small amount of money the stores do make will be swallowed up promotional costs and other overheads. The situation is such that many small independents who do not have the buying power of the chains, will find it cheaper to buy their own copies from the likes of Asda and Amazon than from their own wholesalers! How can this make sense?

Thus it is that several million pounds that could have been used to help a flagging industry will be literally poured down the drain, and all this at a time when the industry is struggling for survival. It defies all logic known to man (and certainly this woman). What a way to run a business! If people want to buy this book, then why not make them pay full price? When you ask that vital question though, the only response is that the retailers have to remain competitive. Well, how can they remain competitive when they lose money? I fail to see the point.

Selling books at these knock down prices devalues the entire industry, not to mention the worth of authors in the eyes of both readers and publishers, both of whom are struggling to make ends meet (Brown being very much the exception). This comes at a time when authors advances are being squeezed more and more, with some reporting decreases of up to 80 percent and wondering why they bother at all. Brown himself, as with most best selling authors, will make most of his money not from the book itself from the sale or rights - merchandising, film rights and so on, and of course foreign rights for other languages and territories.

For all the talk about diversity and about how the face of publishing is changing, the reality is that very little is - it remains just talk. Walk into the average supermarket and you see rows of celebrity biographies and best selling fiction paperbacks, with if you are lucky, a few heavily discounted gardening and DIY manuals. This is not diversity, but to be quite honest, boring, and I cannot understand how the supermarkets have become the leading book retailers with such a predictable stable. The chains may promote these same types of books the heaviest, but at least they make the effort to stock other types of book, and can order them in if requested. The supermarkets do not offer this level of service, and do not pretend to.

Some may argue that offering books at discount encourages more people to read, and in a way they do have a point, but at what price? In the end if simply devalues the industry and further erodes what is left. After all, logic dictates that if Dan Brown can be sold at half price, so can everything else.

I remember when I first read the Conversations with God series of books back in the mid 90's, in one of them (it may have been book 2, but I can't remember exactly), God speaking through author Neale Donald Walsch suggested that goods should have 2 sets of figures on them - the cost of buying the product and the price that it is actually sold for -perhaps it is time to introduce this system and ask the consumers, would you be prepared to work for so little?