Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is There A Thread Here Somewhere?

John Ramsey Miller

I got an email this week from Jennifer Chappelle. She is opening a new bookstore in downtown Locust, NC called Uwharrie Books (U War EE). Her new shop is going to feature books by North Carolina authors and she intends to make Saturdays author event day where authors can come in and sign their books for local book lovers. Locust is a small town, but one with a Walmart for serious competition. If there are enough readers in the area who will shop at an independent, hopefully Uwharrie Books will do well. It’s refreshing to see someone willing to swim upstream against a swift current. We’ve seen the trend of readers to buy cheap at any cost (the small hand sellers who were once the backbone of the industry), an erosion of customer loyalty, and a trend away from reading for the TVs, Gaming devices, and PCs. All of these trends can change when people get fed up with insipid TV content, winning an imaginary war, and shopping at giant box stores that are taking over the world. If and when “they” decide to try thinking and imagining once again, and decide that a few cents more to maintain stores owned by actual members of their community, who reinvest in that community, strikes a chord. Please, don’t the Waltons have enough in the bank yet?

Walter Cronkite was buried Thursday in New York. Uncle Walter was a fixture for my generation, a supreme and trusted journalist who had watched from the sidelines as the news he was devoted to reporting (without injecting his own bias, well, except for declaring the Vietnam War lost, which is still being debated) evolved into a cross between a carnival fright ride and a candy store. The media seems intent on keeping the populace scared to death, depressed about the state of the world, and aware of the importance of keeping up with the latest fads. The Today Show is nothing but one long commercial for products, punctuated by celebrity shenanigans, quick bursts of terrifying news and sound-bites of political propaganda. It bothers me. It bothers me a lot. Newsmen seem to be chosen for their pleasing appearance, rather than their journalistic abilities. Just as people get the Government they deserve, so goes it with the news. We are asking for this and for it to continue. Hard to imagine this superficiality is so widely accepted. It is our job as thriller authors to entertain and scare the crap out of people, and the news outlets are usurping our positions. Why do people need us if they can get the crap scared out of them every time they turn on their TV sets?

And the trend toward reality shows should be helping bookellers. I’d rather read War & Peace in Russian than watch Survivor, Bridezilla, Housewives of Orange County, New York City, or New Jersey, or I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! So you’d think people would be reading more as TV hurdles down the slippery slope greased so thoroughly by Jerry and Maury. The sad thing is I see it getting much worse before it gets any better.
What does that say about us? You know very well what it says.


  1. John, have you noticed that everything is "breaking news"? Kind of makes you wonder how a real disaster would be treated. I'm with you on the decline of quality TV. But then, when I was young, my dad said the same thing. And when my sons have children, they'll probably be saying the same thing: why can't you kids read a good book instead of . . . whatever the latest fad will be. I think we're in a never-ending cycle when comparing literature to the mindless entertainment currently available. It's a war that will go on forever.

  2. One of my favorite movies is Broadcast News, in which two journalists with news integrity are forced to work with a
    newly-hired, shallow anchor who was selected only for his telegenic looks. At the end of the film, the pretty boy has taken over the newsroom. And at the end of the Walter Cronkite era, News Barbies and screaming pundits took over the entire media world. I used to watch Hardball, for example, but had to give it up because it's impossible to understand anyone with all the interruptions and shouted arguments. Now I'm sticking to NPR.

  3. I wonder how Walter Cronkite viewed today's news organizations? I remember reading that he felt there was no need for 24-hour news.

  4. Well said, John. I fear for our children, and their children, who might seek truth. Where on earth will they find it?

  5. I'm excited to hear about the new store in Locust.

    Walmart doesn't have much of a selection for serious readers. I think the new store will do well.

    Mystery Writing is Murder