Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Is it possible to publish too many books?

Here at a site called Intellectual Takeout, this: Way Too Many Books Are Being Published

In the past week, I’ve seen online a number of lists bearing some title to the effect of “Best Books I Read in 2017.”

I somewhat enjoy looking at these lists, both for their recommendations, and for the windows they provide into their composers.

But I must admit that I mostly find them stressful and anxiety-inducing. They are yet another reminder of how many great books in various genres are being written, and of how little time I have to read them.

This post is from Daniel Lattier, vice-president of Intellectual Takeout.

Well, I have to say, my initial reaction is, Gosh, Daniel, maybe you should chill out? Recognizing the obvious truth that we are all missing practically everything worth reading is not so stressful if you also recognize that this is inevitable and just let it go.

Lattier goes on:

As a culture, we can be somewhat proud of having this problem of too many books. It’s indicative of civilization that has enjoyed several hundred years of uninterrupted intellectual development. Plus, arguably the greater problem is not that we in America are inundated with books, but that one-third of American adults did not read a single book in the past year.

At the same time, however, I cannot help but feel that the exponential proliferation of books is a sign of our culture’s loss of an ultimate, shared purpose to life, and a consensus on how to achieve that purpose. Devoid of this consensus, each of us is left to search for the fragments of truth (or more often than not, mindless entertainment) in our frantic, scattered regimen of reading each year.

I agree with the first point, but the second point seems a trifle . . . frantic, possibly. This is the USA we’re talking about (it is explicitly publishing in the USA that Lattier addresses in his article), a massively varied and diverse country. I don’t know that we’ve had an ultimate shared purpose any time in the past 150 years at least, probably more, and I don’t know that I think that’s a goal to strive for.

Possibly striving for the publication of immense numbers of books that suit the tastes and needs of many different readers is good enough? Even if some of us like to read for (gasp!) entertainment? (Leaving aside this notion of *mindless* entertainment, which is arguable in a whole different way.)

If a broadly shared cultural background is important, and perhaps it is, then addressing the question of what books to assign in schools would seem dramatically more relevant than reducing the number of books published overall.

Also, one might justifiably point out, dramatically less authoritarian. One does rather assume Lattier sees himself as the Chosen One who gets to select which books get published. That is ridiculous, as obviously I myself would be far better suited for that role.

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4 Comments Is it possible to publish too many books?

  1. SarahZ

    This sounds like it stems from discomfort with attempts to diversify the publishing scene & introduce traditionally marginalized voices. He’s just trying to frame it in a way that doesn’t sound as bad. Given that the OP is a white man, he might not have previously noticed anything missing, though.

  2. mona

    I’ve been hearing about governemental censorship on the news lately. This one is just disturbing for being so open about it here in America.

  3. Craig N.

    I don’t think Lattier is clear enough to be confident what he means — on the one hand, I think he’s worried about the lack of cultural touchstones; on the other hand, most of the paragraphs actually seem to be about the proliferation of nonfiction (“drowning in information”).

    Similarly, I can’t tell if he’s being cagy about the totalitarian implications of what he’s saying, or if he just hasn’t thought about it enough to realize they’re there.

  4. Rachel

    I actually think Lattier is not thinking clearly enough about what he’s saying to recognize how totalitarian his suggestion is — or how potentially elitist, exclusionary, etc. I could be wrong, but I tend to ascribe things like this to thoughtlessness rather than malice.

    This is not much of an improvement imo, since I don’t much admire inability to think things through.

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