ACW

ACW

Friday, 26 February 2016

Do Books Matter by Fiona Veitch Smith



“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” (Ecc 12:12)

I’ve been feeling a bit like Solomon lately. That’s probably because I’m approaching deadlines for a number of writing contracts and am also bogged down in my ‘day job’ marking university assignments. I’m also putting together a proposal for some post-graduate study of my own. Things should ease by the end of March but in the meantime I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water.

Which is probably why I’m feeling jaded. I’ve been asking myself lately ‘do books matter’? A few things have led me to ask this question. Firstly, a discussion in the ACW Facebook group about the commercial shelf life of new books. It was generally agreed that except in rare occasions a new title will make most of its sales in the first six months and then a new one is required to stir the pot again and get the author / book back on the consumer’s radar.

The second thing is all the book bloggers and readers who claim to read between 2-300 books a year. That’s on average 3 a week! As someone who reads 30 – 40 books a year – and that includes all of the texts I have to read for my lecturing and research for my novels, as well as the increasingly rare ‘books I read for pleasure’ – that makes my head spin. Now of course I should be grateful that there is such a voracious book-consuming public – and that my books are helping to feed it – but I just feel a bit overwhelmed by the scale. What are books really ‘worth’ when they are consumed like fast food?

The third thing that has upset my equilibrium is a book clear-out at home. I’ve only just scratched the surface but so far I’ve culled about 200 books that I have never read and if I’m honest probably never will. They are bagged up and waiting to go to Oxfam but my husband – being far more capitalistically minded than me – first wants to check their potential resale value on Amazon or Ebay. Resale value? Sigh.

But then a few of things have happened to restore my faith. I’m being interviewed for a radio show to be aired on World Book Day on the subject Do Books Matter? In my mulling I’ve realised that I’m really just jaded with the book industry as part of the consumer culture, not books themselves. The other day a writer friend of mine received an email from a soldier who told him one of his books saved his life. He was carrying a paperback in his breast pocket when he fell victim to an IED. The shrapnel from the explosive device apparently embedded in the book – literally saving his life. Gosh! That book certainly mattered.

Then another friend of mine who has written an inspirational autobiography of her life met a woman who said she had found her book in a backpackers lodge in South America. She read it and gave her life to God. Wow! That book certainly mattered.

Then a friend from my church who works at a soup kitchen for the homeless told me he’d met a man on the streets of Newcastle who had a copy of my book The Peace Garden with him. My friend spotted it and told him he knew the author. This has opened a series of conversations and a reason for the man to keep coming back to the shelter. That book has mattered.

These are just three stories. No doubt you will know of many more. But when you weigh up these three books against the millions that are consumed or discarded every year then yes, I think books do matter.


Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her children’s books The Young David Series, are now available from SPCK. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series is published by Lion Fiction. Her novel The Peace Garden  is self-published under Crafty Publishing http://fiona.veitchsmith.com www.poppydenby.com




11 comments:

  1. Well said, Fiona! It's tempting to measure our success in terms of numbers of books sold or articles published (and so on) and forget that our words will be read by individuals, each with their own needs and difficulties. I'm sure that - in God's eyes - changing one person's life through our writing is just as important as maintaining a presence on the best-seller shelves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or perhaps even more important. And how about the writers whose book literally saved someone's life? I love that story.

      Delete
  2. I have been a voracious reader in the past but feel in the last couple of years my book reading has slowed, more than I would like. Partly because my brain is getting more accustomed to skimming and zipping...but there are still books which grip and hold me, even in that state. I loved 'The Writing Life' by Annie Dillard, and was utterly transfixed by 'Help, Thanks, Wow' by Anne Lamott recently. Sometimes a book can make you feel 'I'm not the only one' which is so releasing. I'm still working on getting my fiction fetish (!) back. I think these days a book has to be really good to keep my attention, so the books I read end up being the 'books that matter' rather than just another book I'm zooming through (I'm a fast reader, although trouble with my eyes makes it harder these days).

    Lovely picture (and selection) of books, by the way...!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lucy. I can't take the credit for the pic. That was Wendy Jones - she posted this because I ran out of time!

      Delete
  3. Great post. I loved all the stories. It means so much when we know someone has really got something from one of our books doesn't it. The individuals and their stories are so important.

    I can remember getting a message from a stranger just hours after the Kindle version of my second book, Being Known: My journey to freedom from food addiction, was released. The person had already read a couple of chapters and said "I have just downloaded your new book and read 2 chapters. It may prove life changing for me...bless you." Followed by "I think that your book is a clear answer to prayer...Currently weeping". I wept at those words. The work to produce the book was worth it just to read those words.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a lovely thing to hear, Lynda. Makes it all worthwhile.

      Delete
  4. I found this article online about books that changed authors' lives. I guess that's one way in which books really can change people ... they say, don't they, (whoever 'they' are) that the more we read the better our writing will be? Melvyn Bragg's contribution is telling! http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/26/hay-festival-book-changed-life

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A fascinating list! And yes, good old Melyvyn for fessing up to the Bible. But Antonia Fraser reading Our Island Story when she was only 4 and a half? Me thinks she's telling porkies.

      Delete
  5. Great post, Fiona, and certainly something to make us think. Hope my book, Time to Shine wasn't among the 200 or so you've culled as 'never read'? :(

    ReplyDelete
  6. No Mel, your book is still on my shelf. It will not be the next book I read but it will be the next novel I get to. I am still in the middle of the novel I said I was reading when I told you yours would be next. It's likely to be a month or perhaps more before I'm finished that. I'm not a fast reader.

    ReplyDelete