Avoiding Reader Burnout by Texting the Gods

(c) Copyright 2017, Random House Books for Young Readers

I’ve been repeatedly having the same vaguely disturbing conversation in person and via email with a number of individuals recently about books and reading. The topic is variously referred to as “reading fatigue,” “book burnout,” and “reading slump,” among other terms. The complaint centers upon the perceived feeling that new books being published are “all” following the same pattern. Elements of that pattern would include 1) “the placement of the word ‘girl’ in the title; 2) the unreliable first-person narrator; and 3) a missing child/husband/sister who seems to suddenly reappear with an inability to explain their absence.

It is true that publishing industry generally is reactive and not proactive. We all remember The Da Vinci Code. That book became a sub-genre unto itself. It seemed for a while as if every other newly published book concerned a hunt for an ancient relic that, depending on what it was and who was hunting it, would destroy, save, or enslave the world. Going back a bit further, Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and John Grisham’s The Firm revived the popularity of the courtroom thriller, though it’s not as if that sub-genre ever really went away, once Erle Stanley Gardner had taken that beachhead in the 1930s with his Perry Mason novels.

There is some method to publishing’s madness, based on the proposition that if the public likes a certain type of book then it will want more of the same. I don’t recall a research  ever calling me and asking, “If you went to the library tomorrow, what type of book would you look for?” My answer would be “bound,” but that’s beside the point.

What does this mean for budding authors? My best advice is to not follow trends. If someone writes a book about an alcoholic housewife on a train who suspects that she has witnessed a murder being committed, and it becomes a bestseller, write your book about something else. Flip the script. Write about a recovering alcoholic who is as reliable as a Fossil Haywood and who, while doing some backyard gardening,  believes that she sees someone being murdered on the LIRR. I’m only kind of kidding. Do something different, because by the time you write your book and find an agent the publishers will probably be looking for something else. As for readers: if you’re tired of new books, look for an author who is new to you, or go back to the past and seek out something in your favorite genre among the mountains of books that have been published in the past sixty years or so. You can also seek out a couple of go-to authors. When I do my own reading, and nothing seems to please me, I pick up one of Timothy Hallinan’s fine novels, or an Elmore Leonard book, or start working my way through James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux canon, among others, to shake me out of my doldrums. Reading is good for you. You don’t want to stop.

Whatever you do, whether you are writing or reading or both, please don’t develop the impression that there are too many books. One of the blessings in my life is my association with bookreporter.com. I started reviewing books for Carol Fitzgerald’s website twenty years ago, and one of the many happy results of that relationship is that I receive new books of all sorts on an almost daily basis. Some of them are outside of my interest or demographic or whatever you wish to call it, as was one which I recently received entitled Greek Gods #squadgoals by Courtney Carbone, a children’s book editor and author. I thumbed through it and was totally lost — I don’t get the whole ‘#’ thing, or tweeting, Instagram, Pinterest, and the rest,  and probably never will — but the premise of the book was interesting, if incomprehensible to me in execution. It tells the stories of Greek Mythology from the point of view of the participants while assuming that they had smartphones and could text one another. I passed the book onto Samantha,  our (almost) eleven granddaughter. Samantha lives in the same city as we do, and as a result — another blessing — we get to see her frequently. I left Greek Gods at her place at the kitchen table. She came over for a visit, picked it up, and was entranced. She put her phone down, ignored the computer, turned off the flat screen, and started reading it from beginning to end, laughing all the way and sharing passages with us. Samantha is no stranger to books. She is working her way through that wonderful Warriors series by Erin Hunter and the likes of R. L. Stine, Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello books, and a host of others. This doesn’t happen by accident. Her father —my son — is a reader himself, and makes sure that she gets to the library and a local children’s bookstore pretty much on demand. I was happiest, however, about Samantha devoting full focus to Greek Gods. Whether she will at some point down the road pour over Edith Hamilton’s classic work on the subject, in the same manner in which those wonderful Classics Illustrated comics led me to H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and yes, Fyodor Dostoyevsky,  remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that from Samantha’s perception there won’t be too many books, or not enough interesting ones. There simply won’t be enough time to read them all.

Back to you. What book or series would you want to read right now, time and availability permitting? For me, it would be Richard Prather’s Shell Scott series, in the original paperback editions. You?


30 thoughts on “Avoiding Reader Burnout by Texting the Gods

  1. Just about anything of John D. MacDonald’s, especially the Travis McGhee series,
    William F. Buckley’s Blackford Oakes spy series…

    And as you put it, in the original paperbacks…

    • Those are great series on both counts, George. I’m fortunate enough to have the McGee books in paperback (as well as a couple of Macdonald’s science fiction works). And the Oakes series is underrated and underappreciated. Thanks for the reminder.

    • My favorite JDMs are his 1950s stand alones. I have a complete set in paperback, even Weep For Me (1951), which JDM never allowed to be reprinted. Some of these are among the finest middlebrow fiction written in the entire decade, esp. Cancel All Our Vows and Clemmie.

      • Jim…a complete set of the Macdonald stand-alones? Will you include me in your will. I do have a copy of CANCEL ALL OUR VOWS that I bought used…for ten cents…at a used book store in the 1960s. Thanks for stopping by and the reminder.

  2. Joe, your posts always give me a lift, a laugh, and a learning experience. This a.m., I had to look up Fossil Haywood. I thought it must be the name of a character in a BBC series I’d missed!

    My touchstone classics are Raymond Chandler, Chekhov, and O. Henry…if only there was time. Currently in nonfic, I’m rereading Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure to prepare for a discussion with a young writer who’s struggling with that. Its references to typewriters and doing a manual word count are quaintly out of date, but the principles remain solid.

    Thanks for the smile with my coffee.

    • Thank you, Debbie. If I can bring a smile to a face on a Saturday morning, then my work is done. I was just thinking about R. Chandler, oddly enough. And O. Henry is always on my mind, given that he wrote a number of his stories about twelve miles from where I’m sitting, in the (gone but not forgotten) Ohio State Penitentiary. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Nice post. I would like to know your name. I looked all over and I could not find it except someone did call you Joe.

  4. If I could open up a book series and pour it into my brain, I would dump in all of Marc Secchia’s dragon books. They’re massive tomes, and I want to know the whole story of how dragon shifters came about and what happens when the star dragon crashes into the world and demands to be worshipped. But I homeschool five kids, so time is limited.

    • Kessie, I’m glad you mentioned those books as I am totally unfamiliar with that author and those books. I’m always looking for new (to me) authors. Here’s one back to you (maybe): Anne Mccaffery’s Pern series. It’s an addicting mashup of fantasy and science fiction. Enjoy if you haven’t already. And thank you for stopping by.

  5. Good morning, Joe.

    I always enjoy your posts and learn something. Good thoughts today. Your advice reminds us to think outside the box. Stay ahead of the curve. Maybe it does get continually more difficult to come up with something totally new, but that’s what readers want. Our books are called novels, after all.

    Time and availability permitting…I would like to read all the books of the authors posting on this site. I love PJ Parrish’s Louis Kincaid series. I couldn’t stop laughing while reading JSB’s Sister Justicia series. Other authors where I’ve dipped my toe in the water and would like to dive in…Michael Connelly, Robert Dugoni, David Baldacci.

    Have good weekend.

    • Good morning, Steve. Thanks as always for being a loyal visitor and contributor, and especially today for the reminder that the world “novel” means “new.” How quickly we forget.

      I am a HUGE fan of P.J.’s Kincaid series, though I wish they’d write more frequently (like every month!). Everyone else you mentioned is a “reach for” author as well. Hope you enjoy Connelly’s TWO KINDS OF TRUTH which just dropped earlier this week and is one of his best, with something for everyone.

      You have a good weekend as well and enjoy the upcoming week!

  6. Hey, Joe. Loved the story about Samantha. My eldest granddaughter Berlyn, age 4, has already developed a love for books. Both her parents read, my husband and I read, her grandparents on Mom’s side read. When the family are all readers, like you mentioned, it can have a great impact on a child’s life. Berlyn won’t leave the house without a book under her arm. Books are also her favorite gifts. The day a child realizes a whole new and exciting world has opened up, through books … it doesn’t get much better than that.

    To answer your question, I adore Thomas Harris, Jeffrey Deaver, Karin Slaughter, (old) Patterson, Katia Lief, the list goes on and on. When I find myself in a reading slump, they’re my Big 5 go-to authors. However, we have so many talented storytellers on TKZ, my TBR pile is toppling over. I just finished reading VALENTINE: STEEL HEART by Jordan Dane. Action-packed, suspenseful, and a roller coaster ride of emotions. Loved it! #shamelessplug 😉

    • Sue, I’m glad to hear that you are spoiling your granddaughter! And you are right…it doesn’t get much better than that. Taking a child who reads into a bookstore and saying “Go for it” is a terrific giving experience.
      Grandparents and grandchildren have a special bond between them because they have a common enemy. One day I will tell the story of how Samantha’s dad detached an entire row of paperbacks from a wire display rack when he was three…

      That’s a great go-to list. And you can plug Jordan as much as you like and it still wouldn’t be enough. And, of course, don’t forget to include your own books! Thank you, Sue!

    • Mike, thanks for this. Lois is from Columbus originally and her name continues to be spoken with reverence here by readers of all genres.

  7. When I get in the doldrums I need a real shock. I go for Jim Thompson or even J.G. Ballard. Obscure I know but worth the read. Oh, and of course John Le Carre.

    • Thank you, Brian, for noting two terrific authors. Thompson is finally getting his due, and Ballard…I think we’re all just catching up to him. He’s one of those guys who influenced a bunch of authors who don’t even know who he was. I loved CONCRETE ISLAND. Then there is “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As a Downhill Motor Race,” a one-page story that is groundbreaking to this day. As for Le Carre…he continues to lead the pack. Thanks again.

  8. Speaking of Alistair McLean, Dean Koontz was a fan of his and wrote a book in tribute to him. I was called Icebound. One of the best Koontz books I’ve read. I also like the books of Jack Hawkins.

  9. I am a huge fan of H Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon’s MInes and all the Allen Quatermain series. Any time I don’t know what to read, I pick up another of his books. I love the action.

    • Brett, you can pretty much draw a straight line between Allen Quatermain and Indiana Jones. Haggard was/is terrific. While I don’t read many high adventure books these days those Haggard books stand up very, very well after 120+ years. Thanks for reminding us.

  10. Hi Joe
    I am slowly working my way through Robert B Parker’s Spenser series. Every so often I pick the next one up and read it and I am reminded of the fundamentals of just telling a good story.
    Thanks for your post.

  11. Hi Linda,
    You are welcome, and thanks for mentioning the Spenser books. Parker never wrote a bad one. I had someone sniff to me that he was a formula writer and my response was, “It’s not a formula. It’s a recipe. Like a master-class chef.” Just so.

    I envy you the joy of discovering each of those books. And don’t stop when you get to Ace Atkins’ take on Spenser. He does a terrific job of channeling Parker.

  12. The Keller series, by Lawrence Block. I’very wanted to start the series for quite a while.

  13. Pingback: Writing Links 11/6/17 – Where Genres Collide

  14. I have so many, I couldn’t name them all. Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas is a go to. Love his humor. To Kill a Mockingbird and the Joshua series by Joseph Girzone, are good repeats too. I also love history and true adventure, like No Shortcuts to the Top, by Ed Viesturs about climbing the world’s 14 highest peaks. And of course, who wouldn’t include The Princess Bride and The Lord of the Rings, or Wind in the Willows. I could go on and on.

    I read a book about every two days, and have yet to reach burn out. I agree that there just isn’t enough time to read everything I want to read.

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