Paging America: Books are dying faster than Miley Cyrus’ career.

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By: James Cassar
Before the Internet consumed everyone and everything like an untamed version of a Dyson vacuum, it was a simpler time. There wasn’t the super-secrecy of Tumblr, the idiotic remarks of every Call of Duty player on Earth, and the incessant need to type “#swag LOL” on every social network this side of the Atlantic. No, television didn’t have such an explosive impact on the world’s public, not at least in the scope and size of the written word. Thank a Phoenician for the alphabet, and especially the good ol’ Sumerians for books, because without them, your prized Internet, Tuscarora, would not exist.
Sure, I’m the cooler version of Reading Rainbow in the sense that I attempt to shove reading down people’s throats like a delicious Chick-fil-A meal: sinless fun. I’ve even been so engrossed in this movement to combat horrendous literacy habits that I’ve written a book, The Asphalt Diaries, with a shameless view on the teenage condition, sometimes uncensored, sometimes too realistic. That’s another thing: I believe people don’t read because books are too sugar-coated nowadays. Seriously. Video games give a rush that libraries can’t (and the RUST library now offers console favorites) because they cater to the macabre trigger-finger of the demographic where a buzz of ginseng is the pick-me-up of choice. And this brings me to my second point: booksellers know this.
Enter Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling: two female authors with more cash and followers than (sadly) the leading ladies of their respective countries. If you walk into any classroom during RISE Reading, over half of the students will be shoving their nose in one of the three Hunger Games epics. Why? Don’t get me wrong, I think this series is absolutely what Generation Y needs: A plot that’s a rapid-fire retelling of a Greek myth (take that, Odysseus!), a dystopian future somewhat akin to the Fallout game anthology, and a simple premise – mass, barbaric murder – that would whet the appetite of even the most bloodthirsty first-person shooter champion. Harry Potter has also made its mark on the digital age with more tie-in deals, products, and endorsements than the total NASCAR population, and with its film series at its ultimate end, teens now feel the need to press play on something else. And on March 23rd with the upcoming release of the Hunger Games film, they can.
But this brings me to the realization that without a flashy cinema unveiling and an accompanying Happy Meal line, both of these series would have far less of an influence on the world. Back in the 1920s, authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to say something, and the world perked up their ears. Mr. Blair opened a lecture on fiction with this distinction one AP Literature class: “There are two types of fiction: commercial and literary. Commercial fiction is written to sell copies, and literary fiction is art – it’s the message they’re selling.”
I’m not saying that the poster girls of literature are just printing pages to milk the global wallet like – let’s say – Stephenie Meyer of Twilight infamy. In fact, more collegiate debates have been made over the religious, moral, and societal aspects of both book series – showing that bestsellers can in fact blur the line between accessibility and symbolism. However, there’s a reason that The Sun Also Rises or This Side of Paradise don’t see multi-million-dollar productions being thrown their way: even though movies, like books, can be art, studios know their audience, and sadly, like the last page of the final Harry Potter, more literate folk are being vanquished by the end of an elapsed era.