The Left Coast Crime Guest authors gave a brief speech after the
Gala Dinner on Saturday the 18th of March. Jeffery Deaver, US Guest Author,
gave his speech in the form of the poem. By popular request we are pleased
to include it on the website:
I consider myself an entertainer first and foremost and adhere to Ernest Hemingway's dictum that, regarding novels, if you want to send a message, go to Western Union.
But there still are issues I occasionally wish to share my thoughts on, and
I took the opportunity at the recent Left Coast Crime gathering in Bristol,
England, to climb up on a soapbox and offer my thoughts on one subject of
particular interest to writers. I thought I'd share it with visitors to my
website as well.
The Death of Reading
by Jeffery Deaver
I've got what I think is the very best job.
I have no commute, I can dress like a slob.
I get paid to make up thing—isn't that neat?
Just like at the White House and 10 Downing Street.
Only in my case there's no dereliction.
In fact it's expected when you're writing fiction.
So imagine my horror, imagine my fear
When I read in the press that the end was near.
But not Armageddon or crazed terrorists
No, the demise of reading was the article's gist.
Teachers and parents and critics all share it:
That like Monty Python's proverbial parrot
Reading is dead, deceased, pushing up daisies.
Readers are growing increasingly lazy,
lured by the siren of electronic toys
That fill up their lives with meaningless noise
From Palm Pilots, blogs, big-screen TVs
And mobile phones smarter than I'll ever be.
We pray at the altar of our brand-new God,
Who's powerful and wise and whose name is iPod.
So, if people are no longer going to read,
Then writers are something that nobody needs.
This made my heart pound and made my hands shake
And I considered what other jobs I might take.
But looking for work to find something new,
I decided that I all I could possibly do
Involved making lattes and learning to say,
Let me tell you about our specials today.
So before heading off to my overpriced shrink,
I decided it might be best to rethink
these terrible rumors that we've all heard
About the interment of the written word.
Now, if truly readers are dying off fast,
That suggests there were masses of them in the past,
But I can hardly imagine when that might have been.
Who had, after all, any time to read when
You were fighting off lions with your bare hands
And wandr'ing nomadic across desert sands.
True, reading wasn't past everyone's reach,
But stone tablets weren't popular reads at the beach.
In ancient Rome, yes, people read more,
But not mass-market scrolls from their local drug store.
And Latin, my God—once your lessons were done
Your life span was over; you'd been murdered by Huns.
In medieval times, there was always the hope
That you might learn to read—if you worked for the Pope,
Or you were a royal or other elite,
Which left most of Europe up illiterate creek
Then Gutenberg invented movable letters,
Making access to books a little bit better.
Though another small problem existed, of course,
That the shortest of books cost more than your horse.
Victoria's queen; tuppence novels arrive.
And everywhere interest in reading thrives.
But despite what the doomsayers might be wishing,
The numbers show Dickens sold far less than Grisham.
So if the past hardly proves what the critics say,
Then how 'bout the state of reading today?
To find out if no one reads anymore
I went to—where else?—my local book store,
Which I couldn't help notice was jammed to the gills.
And virtually every shelf was filled
With books on more subjects than I knew existed
And dozens of posters on which were listed
Upcoming visits by writers galore,
Who'd read to their fans right there in the store:
From Romances, children's, true crimes about killers
And self-help and travel, and—oh, yeah—thrillers.
Then I recalled last summer when I was downtown,
Doing some shopping, just strolling around
I was nearly killed in a massive stampede
Of youngsters, no less, in desperate need
To purchase their latest heart's desire,
No batteries required, no software, no wires,
A book's what they sought and they'd waited all day.
Who's this Harry Potter guy, anyway?
Last week British tabloids did what they do best
But not running photos of movie-stars' chests
Or stories about what has Tony Blair shook,
No, the headlines all had to do with a book—
Whether Dan Brown had borrowed ideas sowed
By other authors in The Da Vinci Code.
Which I might mention, in a jealous aside,
Has sold 35 million copies worldwide.
No, I feel that reading's demise must be
Like George Bush's proof of WMDs
Or James Frey's memoirs on Oprah of late.
One word comes to mind— and it's 'overinflate."
So forgive me, the ghosts of Lake Windermere
And all other poets that we hold so dear,
Not to mention the late and the great Dr. Seuss,
For my rhyming transgressions and rhythmic abuse,
But I simply couldn't sit back and ignore
This lie that nobody reads anymore.
And I'll share one more clue that there's nothing to fear:
Why, just look around at our gathering here.
We traveled for thousands and thousands of miles
From the Continent, States and British Isles.
We've managed to get here by hook and by crook,
For something immortal... our love of the book.
© 2006 Jeffery W. Deaver
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