Sunday, March 2, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: On Editors and Deviant Reading Behavior

BoSacks Speaks Out: The following editoral is posted by Noelle Skodzinski, who is one of the finest and hardest working trade magazine editors I have ever associated with. She is representative of a new breed of publishing talent with the determined wherewithal to succeed.

All you other trade magazine editors know exactly what I'm talking about. You didn't create the concept of multi-tasking, but trade publishers have sure honed it to a fine science. It is representative of the apparent need to collapse our work force to its lowest common denominator, combining and condensing skill sets of multiple disparate job disciplines into a single semi-cohesive unit of one - one person now doing the former tasks of many. Can it be done? Yes! But I ask you all, should it be done? Or perhaps better stated, must it be done?

In our industry's zeal for the holy grail of the bottom-most line, how will we know when we have past it? How will we know when we have diminished our workforce to the point that we have diminished the product itself? I have had over the past years hundreds of conversations with editors, publishers, circulators and every other member of our industry. There are many common threads that link people in the same industry, who have never met, to the same conclusions. One of those commonalities is that they are working harder and harder for less and less. And among the less that I make reference to is less satisfaction in the jobs that they hold. There was a time when most publishing employees felt empowered by their jobs and loved being in such a noble and exciting industry. More and more now I get a sense of stress and strain and recognition that in some publishing houses what we produce is more of a cog than a piece of art, more of a mass produced commodity then a unique and valued book or magazine.

Competition is a funny thing. It does bring out the best and worst in people and corporations alike. I suppose that at the end of the day, if under extremely stressful condidtions and a general lack of sustained support and well being, quality will still rise to the top and allow success. This falls somewhere under the addage that those that can will, and those that can't, will fold their cards, thier jobs and thier magazines. In that order.

Retirement kills more people than hard work ever did.
Malcolm S. Forbes

On The Onion . . . and Deviant Reading BehaviorBy Noelle Skodzinski
A recent story from satirical news source The Onion (, entitled "Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book," read:
Sitting in a quiet, downtown diner, local hospital administrator Philip Meyer looks as normal and well-adjusted as can be. Yet, there's more to this 27-year-old than first meets the eye: Meyer has recently finished reading a book.

Yes, the whole thing.

"It was great," said the peculiar Indiana native, who, despite owning a television set and having an active social life, read every single page of "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. . . .
Meyer, who never once jumped ahead to see what would happen and avoided skimming large passages of text in search of pictures, first began his oddball feat a week ago. Three days later, the eccentric Midwesterner was still at it, completing chapter after chapter, seemingly of his own free will.
. . . Over the years, Meyer has read dozens of books from beginning to end, regardless of whether he was forced to do so by a professor in school or whether a film version of the reading material already existed. . . .

According to behavioral psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Schulz, Meyer's reading of entire books is abnormal and may be indicative of a more serious obsession with reading.

"Instead of just zoning out during a bus ride or spending hour after hour watching YouTube videos at night, Mr. Meyer, unlike most healthy males, looks to books for gratification," Schulz said. "Really, it's a classic case of deviant behavior." . . .

After the humor of this story wore off a bit, I began to wonder: How far off is society at large from being in such a state that a story like this is no longer funny, but a horrible reality? I believe so far off that we can still laugh (and will be able to for quite some time) about The Onion's story of Philip Meyer; but obviously there is mounting concern about the nation's reading habits, and I can see why-among other reasons, I seem to question the intelligence of much of the population on a daily basis, especially while driving on the highway or watching the news.

Fortunately, the industry isn't waiting until the Philip Meyer story evolves from satire to widespread truth. The "Get Caught Reading" campaign, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, comes to mind as one of the more well-known literacy efforts (even Yoda "got caught" reading during 2007's Get Caught Reading Month!). The National Education Association's Read Across America, which launched more than a decade ago, is another one. Of course, there are other national efforts, as well as many, many local efforts.

This year, a new national advocacy effort was launched in January, with the Library of Congress' Center for the Book, the Children's Book Council (CBC) and the CBC Foundation appointing Jon Scieszka as the first-ever National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Coughing up funds for the effort are a number of major publishers, including Penguin Young Readers Group, Scholastic, HarperCollins Children's Books, Random House Children's Books, Holiday House, Charlesbridge, National Geographic Children's Books, Candlewick Press and Marshall Cavendish Publishers.

Fortunately, Scieszka's perspective suggests that Philip Meyer's story will remain in satire for some time, but he's not leaving that to chance. In a recent interview with Book Business Extra, he said, "I've started a literacy group for boys called Guys Read ( The more research I looked into, [the more I found data that] showed that boys are reading. It's just not how schools define it. It's not all novels. There are other kinds of reading. We should let kids read what they enjoy. There are graphic novels, and a lot of what kids want to read is nonfiction."

I have to say I can relate wholeheartedly to his point and can offer my first-hand perspective on the fact that kids may not be reading what we might expect them to read. My 12-year-old stepson is reading something right now that is definitely not literature. It's not a graphic novel. It's-and I am not being satirical-The Onion's "Our Dumb World: Atlas Of Planet Earth." Must be a classic case of deviant behavior.

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