"Most people in America want an easy read. I call it McFiction - books which pass right through you without you even digesting them. I don't mean a book that has two-syllable words. I mean chapters you can read in a toilet break. Happy endings. We are more of a TV culture, and that is a hard thing to go up against for any writer."
I'm torn on this quote. A part of me thinks it's just a tad snippy and possibly aimed at the mystery genre. Is that what we are, McFiction? Easy reads digested on the toilet? But a part of me remembers what my very first agent told me when he took on Final Copy. He warned that it would take longer to sell because it was "intelligent." (and yes, it took more than three years to sell)
I do think many readers want easy reads, but I don't think that's always a bad thing. Let's just say that when I was sitting ten to twelve hours a day in a hospice at my mother's side, Janet Evanovich provided real relief where David McCullough's John Adams did not. True, I can't remember which Evanovich I was reading or what the plot was, and I still reflect on the new perspective I have on Thomas Jefferson and the early down-and-dirty American politics revealed in John Adams. But the point is that sometimes you read to learn and sometimes you just need the distraction of raw entertainment.
And if "most people in America want an easy read," why are Jody's books, which involve intense themes and are not easily digestible, such best sellers? I don't think the problem is that readers are morons. I think the problem is that there are fewer readers overall, more reselling of book copies, and a lot less room for sales in all categories of fiction and non fiction. So, as Hank says, what think? Is McFiction a problem for us? Or are we the McFiction Jody is talking about?
I confess, I like a book that has something to chew on, something to say as well as being diverting. If I get to page 20 and I feel like there's no 'there' there, I generally stop reading. And yes there's lots of mysteries that seem pretty ephemeral, but we haven't got the lock on light by any means.
And let's pause for a moment to praise great bathroom books. In my bathroom right now is Bill Bryson's THE MOTHER TONGUE: ENGLISH AND HOW IT GOT THAT WAY. It's been there for 4 months and I'm 3/4 of the way through it. Perfectly fascinating and perfect in 3-minute sittings. Mc-nonfiction? Hardly.
Her comment on short chapters -- I'd say that's definitely a trend for an ADD-TV-Addicted audience.
Okay, time to hear from the TV person. I've been a TV reporter for 30 years. And each year that goes by, the length of my stories (and everyone else's) has been cut cut cut. In 1991, I did a story that was 11 minutes long. To be sure, we had an exclusive interview with a person confessing to murder, so okay, how are you going to cut that down. But now, our stories are about four minutes--and that's amazingly long. (Most news stores are 75 seconds.)
"They" say: viewers just won't listen to anything longer than that, and they'll just click away. And "They" say: if the viewers click away, it won't matter how long your story is, because no one will be watching it.
In fact, there's a TV saying that if Moses brought down the Ten Commandments these days, we'd have to do a story saying: "In other news, Moses brought down the Ten Commandments today, the three most important of which were...etc."
So, we try to learn to write shorter better. (Insert the Cicero quote you all know so well here.) "Select" don't "compress" is the mantra.
But "select" translates to "leave out." And in writing/reading a book, if you get all plot and no substance, then--I think--that's a waste. You don't have to be a philosopher king to allow the readers to have some insight into the "Why." You don't have to leave out the "why" or the "what it means." And it doesn't have to be long. It just has to be good.
Where do I begin? This quote opens up a lot of issues - long versus short, light versus heavy, and some would say, meaningful versus meaningless. First of all, I'm just glad that anyone is reading anything, they could be watching some moronic tv show (apologies to HPR, but we know she doesn't do moronic.) And I lost any snobbishness I might have had about what people read long ago when I was a bookseller and kept trying to steer people toward the Marquez when all they wanted was Sweet Savage Love. (Anyone remember that bodice-ripper?)
I agree with Jan. It does sound a tad snippy. I would respectfully suggest that long does not equal good, any more than short equals bad. I am currently reading my first Ian Rankin - a short, but terrific (and not stupid) read. I am also slogging through the biography of Captain Richard Burton, a long, long, book that I have been working on for two years. As Jan said, different books, different reasons for reading, different reasons for writing. Which is better seems like the wrong question.
On the subject of three page chapters...The first time I read one was in a James Patterson and I remember thinking, "that's it? He's got to be kidding." Then I got it. When the scene's over, the scene's over. There are even a few short chapters in my book. Is it marketing? Something designed to make a book feel like more of a pageturner? Perhaps. Or maybe JP just knows that many of his readers are juggling kids and car keys, or waiting for a flight, or taking the train or bus to work, and they have snippets of time to read a book.
At my reading group a few weeks ago, we talked about when we read. One lucky woman said she sat down and read for 6 hours straight. I looked at her in disbelief. Who had 6 hours in a row to read? I took her cue and allowed/forced myself to finish The Birthday Party in one sitting.(Amazing story, btw) It was great, but I'm not counting on it happening again any time soon. Maybe short chapters are popular because, just like us, readers are juggling a zillion things every day. I'm glad they fit us in at all.