All texts are constructed to entertain and instruct. Technical and historical texts inform first, hoping to entertain by organizing information in an engaging manner. The best thriller novels inform of imaginary events but they hope to entertain by arousing the emotions. Signs and symbols are arranged in ways that intrigue and excite.
Reading is not unique to human beings. Dogs read their owners like open books, getting ready for a walk even before their owners know their own intentions. Human beings may not be so skilled at reading their environment but are very good at understanding and being excited by textual signs.
Authors make it their business to construct texts that interest and entertain. If they do it well and are good at selling their products they can become wealthy and influential. The trick is to construct products that enable readers to ‘suspend disbelief’ and enter an imaginary world that could be true though it is not. This harmless deception can be great entertainment that informs and reduces stress.
In the era of Jane Austen most people were illiterate but those who could read had many servants who could sweep and dust, leaving much time for upper class ladies to read Gothic novels. Now their descendants have to work and have less time for leisure reading. However the formerly illiterate are now readers. Moreover they have access to a vast array of films, smart phones computer screens and paper texts. There are many more readers and many more texts to inform and intrigue. Authors have to contend with working in a reading revolution.
The twenty-first century world is filled with flashing images and texts that are both printed and visual. They can be accessed instantly from smart phones or electronic readers. The tendency is for them to become much shorter and more concise that was the case in the past. However, much reading may now be described as browsing because computer educated readers are used to immediate relevance.
Far from being dead the reading habit has never been as widespread and alive as it is in 2012. What has changed is the skill that is required to get one’s ideas and texts before the eyes of avid readers. Contemporary writers have no option but to join the revolution in reading.
Many things change in a revolution but there are always some things that remain unaltered. Thousands of years ago our ancestors would have raised their eyes and looked to the horizon for signs of impeding bad weather. When a pretty girl walked across the mouth of the cave male heads would probably have turned in much the same way as they do in restaurants thousands of years later.
Fast, surprising action always attracts interest. Most people are instinctive voyeurs who like to see without being seen. When new gadgets are brought out men look with tilted heads and curious eyes at novelty. The human species, like other social animals, is incurably fascinated by social issues such as marriage, murder, and mayhem. The best thriller novels may be sold in a new milieu but the fundamental resources out of which they are fashioned are as old as coal.
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