Saturday, October 15, 2005

The End of My Sickbed Reading...I Hope

I'm going to talk about a couple of articles I read in some back issues of magazines lying around the house because they both touch on subjects that interest me.

The Real-Life Boy Wizard in the August 29th issue of Time is all about Christopher Paolini the homeschooled boy whose family self-published the book he wrote as a teenager, it eventually was published by a traditional publisher, and it became a big hit. He's written a new book, by the way, but everyone must know that by now.

I haven't read either of Paolini's books and probably won't because they sound a little hard-core fantasy for my taste. But what really interested me about this article, was what he went through selling his first book while it was still in the realm of the self-published. According to Lev Grossman, who wrote the article, Paolini's parents 'quit their jobs, published Eragon themselves and put Paolini on a grueling tour schedule, from junior high to junior high, library to library. He became the family breadwinner. "As the saying goes, we really bet the farm," Paolini says. "It was down to the point where if we didn't sell enough books, we didn't have food on the table...And I did do most of those events in medieval costume. It will take some extraordinary event to ever get me back in that thing."'

I've written before about the extra work self-published authors do. Writers who publish through traditional routes often talk about how much we have to do to support our books, that no one loves our books the way we do. Okay, that's true. But I'm way too lazy or lethargic or introverted or whatever to put in the kind of effort a lot of these self-published people do.

The other article I want to lecture you on is Pop Culture Phenomenon in the September 26th issue of Newsweek. "Pop-up books," the article says, "long a staple of the kiddie shelf, are increasingly migrating onto Mom and Dad's coffee table." Robert Sabuda estimates that half his fans are adults. (I heard Sabuda speak at the University of Connecticut a number of years ago.) Adults are really into pop-ups, even forming a society of enthusiasts.

Am I a big pop-up fan? I can take them or leave them. No, my interest here is the part about adults being into what has traditionally been considered children's books. Adults like pop-ups. They also like picture books. Why not admit it and actually create pop-ups and picture books specifically for adults? Personally, I think it's already happening. To Everything There is a Season by Leo and Diane Dillon is one beautiful book. But, come on, how many preschoolers are really going to be grabbed by a verse straight from Ecclesiastes? I know the Bible is supposed to speak to everybody, but let's be honest. And when was the last time you heard a seven- or eight-year-old kid talk about how much he enjoyed crying over Love You Forever?

Why would it be so wrong to create an adult category of picture books? Yeah, I know the Brits worry that adults reading children's books will dumb down their culture (see my October 12th post), but these books I'm talking about would have pictures. So we could call them art. Wouldn't that make everyone feel good about grown-ups reading them?

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