Friday, July 24, 2015

Target audiences

An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald
Does this seem presumptuous? Most writers are lucky just to reach the youth, or anybody else, of their own generation, let alone critics and schoolmasters of the future. That F. Scott Fitzgerald, with novels like The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, managed to reach all three of his target audiences says much for him. Success like that is rare in the literary world, however. I can think of writers who perhaps by striving for future greatness failed to write anything that drew much of an audience even in their own time.

I prefer John Updike's point of view. He said, "When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him. The reviews, the stacks in Brentano's, are just hurdles to get over, to place the books on that shelf."

Updike's target audience, while still located in the future, seems more humble, more realistic and even more honorable. All books, after all, should be written for readers, not for critics and schoolmasters. Printed on paper and placed on shelves, they are intended to outlive their authors. Whether any future reader will ever discover them and take the time to read them is the question.

At a Friends of the Library book sale in my town last weekend, I noticed all the library discards on the shelves. These are the books the library removed from circulation to make room for newer books. I was particularly saddened when I noticed Michael Frayn's novel Spies among the discards. This is a wonderful book, published in 2002, that reads like an espionage thriller even though it is about two little boys just pretending to be spies. Now no "countrysh teen-aged boy," or anyone else, is going to be able to find it in this library ever again. That's too bad, not just for Michael Frayn but for all those potential readers, as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment