According to a blog called ‘The IFOD’ (interesting fact of the day) there are roughly 300,000 new book titles published each year in the U.S. and, in 2013, about 2.2 million world-wide. The number of self-published books within this total is harder to pinpoint, but all sources agree that the percentage is noticeable and growing. The same site reports about 130 million different titles in total since Gutenberg cranked out copies on his printing press – a number I can’t help but think is underestimated. Still, it’s small wonder that few books garner much attention, even the ones that are accepted by traditional publishers and not so surprising that an ‘average’ successful published book sells about two thousand copies over its lifespan, irrespective of its merits.
It would seem that the chances of producing a book that sells millions of copies is only slightly less possible than buying a winning lotto ticket. Not only that but some of the ‘big sellers’ aren’t exactly great books either. The message for those who want to be writers is the same as it is for artists and actors – don’t give up your day job. It’s likely easiest to be an old crank like me who writes for a hobby in retirement. If I never get any of my three books published, it’s not going to make a substantial difference to my pocketbook, thank heavens.
All of which brings me to a potpourri of books I read over the last few weeks. Most of them came from a ‘FREE’ bin in front of someone’s yard. It’s the same bin that yielded ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that I blogged about earlier. In some ways it’s interesting to have a dip into someone else’s book pool, especially when the libraries are closed and it’s without cost.
Of the four, the one that I eventually warmed to the most is called ‘Secret Daughter’, written by Shilip Somaya Gowda and published in 2010. The story contrasts aspects of India with America. A female doctor in America marries a doctor born in India. She discovers she’s barren and they eventually adopt a girl from an orphanage in Mumbai. The story flips between the American doctor and the Indian woman who is the baby’s birth mother. She gave her child to the orphanage because, as a poor woman in rural India, the alternative is that a girl baby will be killed as an economic choice. The daughter grows up to be a journalist with a desire to find her birth parents. She visits a notorious slum in Mumbai as part of her job and sees first hand the kind of conditions which drove even Mother Theresa to despair. It’s one of those books about personal growth and warm fuzzy endings. O.K. I can be a sucker for the sentimental.
The book I enjoyed least was ‘Under the Eagle’ by Simon Scarrow. It’s not that the book itself was terrible – it’s a well-crafted book, set in Roman times under the Emperor Claudius. The main character is a late teen, just freed from slavery in return for joining the Roman legions. He’s sent to the German frontier to learn the Roman ways of killing. From there he participates in the invasion of Britain, a treasure hunt and political intrigue. He finishes the novel a real hardened battle addict and loving the legionnaire life – just what the world needs. For those that like historical adventure this one will give pleasure. When I was younger I loved these warring historical pot-boilers – couldn’t get enough of Hornblower, or Sharpe or many of those other memorable military heroes. These days I find enough massacre and mayhem in the history books or on the news and it’s anything but glorious – I’d take sex over gore any day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for our world to start moving beyond its pleasure and glorification of war?
On then to a couple of Romance type books. Joanna Trollope, whose ancestor is a famous English author, is a modern writer who writes a lot of relationship type books. This one, ‘Daughters In-Law’, is about a woman’s relationships with her three sons and, at the start, her two daughters in-law. The catalyst for change is the marriage of her third son to a woman who finds mother-in-law somewhat controlling and overbearing. She isn’t someone to let her feelings go unheard. She has an effect on the other two daughters in-law and unrepressed feelings surface and relationships fray. Salvaging the wreckage is Ms. Trollope’s forte and the characters eventually emerge stronger and happier. A satisfying read if you’re not looking for Lolita.
And the last on the list is ‘Lost in the Forest’ by Sue Miller. At the beginning the novel seems to be about a woman with more than her share of romantic disaster. She has two teenage girls from her first marriage and a young son from her second marriage. The first marriage dissolved when her husband told her about his affair and the second marriage ends when her husband dies in a traffic accident. The first husband still thinks he loves his ex-wife and attempts to reconcile with her. Complications develop with the children. As the story progresses it becomes apparent that the focus has shifted to the middle child, a troubled girl who feels alienated from her mother, dismissive of her actual father and devastated by the death of the step-parent she really loved. Throw in a little teenage angst with an older man who’s quite happy to take advantage of a young girl and you have the ingredients for this story.
All the books are ‘traditionally’ published, none of them will set the world on fire and all of them offered some interest and enjoyment. Sounds like the state of publishing these days.