“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