It is not easy pursuing the bookish life in this Internet age. There are so many distractions: web sites, blogs, e-commerce, games -- and those are just to cover my obsessions with cute shoes, longlasting mascara, and "Mad Men."
Today, for example: I'm traveling from DC to NY on the train so that tomorrow morning I can wake up and talk about this summer's hot books on NY1. I already have an MP3 player stuffed with all of my Van Morrison CDs (don't diss the Irish soul master, at least within my hearing) and an e-reader stuffed with great books, including the new Arthur Phillips, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi I could easily plug in, power up, and tune out the world.
But it's more and more difficult to find the time and space in which to do that. If I -- who reads, interviews authors, and writes about books for a living -- find it difficult, then it must be even tougher for others, whose working lives allow little time for reading (whether that work is done in a cubicle, on a farm, or consists of wrangling toddlers in a family room).
On the Acela today I have my MP3 player, my e-reader, my CrackBerry -- and now I have a wireless modem that lets me connect to the Internet anywhere, anytime. Not so long ago, my only travel entertainment options were newspapers, magazines, and yes, books.
Is it any wonder we're reading less? Fortunately, I love to read so much that as soon as I've finished some essential paycheck-related tasks, I really will start a new novel and be happily lost in it before we even reach Wilmington. But it has me thinking that books, especially fiction, have to be better than ever in order to grab the attention of modern consumers. While readers in a particular genre or series will probably continue to read heavily on their familiar paths, even those books are going to have to get better and better, since there are only so many books any reader can devour.
Even the greedy ones, like me, who have some leisure time on a comfortable train to dive in to a great read right now. The seat next to me is empty; won't you sit down and crack a book?