A Modest Proposal for the Publishing Industry

From “The Plot Curdles,” by Julian Gough (New York Times, 1.4.09):

As we all know, lax writing practices earlier this decade led to irresponsible writing and irresponsible reading. This simply put too many families into books they could not finish. We are seeing the impact on readers and neighborhoods, with five million Americans now behind on their reading. Some are just walking away from novels they should never have been reading in the first place. What began as a subprime reading problem has spread to other, less-risky readers and contributed to excess inventories.

These troubled novels are now parked, or frozen, on the shelves of libraries, bookstores and other reading institutions, preventing these institutions from financing readable novels. The normal buying and selling of nearly all types of literature has become challenged.

The role of the ratings agencies cannot be overlooked in creating this crisis. The Pulitzer, Booker and National Book Foundation committees continued to award top ratings to these novels, even as unread copies piled up all over America.

These unreadable novels are clogging up our literary system, and undermining the strength of our otherwise sound literary institutions. As a result, Americans’ personal libraries are threatened, and the ability of readers to borrow, and of libraries to lend, has been disrupted.

[Read responsibly on…]