I am sorry to disappoint you if the title has prompted anyone to expect a dissertation on ladies clothes or footwear, fascinating though the subject may be. The following is merely my opinion on the changing fashion of books and what readers, writers and, most importantly, publishers seem to prefer at the present time, compared with one hundred years ago, or even thirty. I may be wrong in my conclusions, and limited in my experience of publishers, so I shall be interested to hear what other people think.
Recently we have been celebrating the birth of Charles Dickens in 1812 so perhaps we could start with his style of writing. My mother was a great lover of Dickens’ novels because she felt he made the people and places seem so alive and real. Due to her influence I started reading them when I was at school and I enjoyed them then. I am not sure whether I would have the patience to read some of them now. There is no doubt that he painted very real pictures in our minds with his (often lengthy) descriptions of scenes and characters. He made us share the dread of poverty and the possibility of the workhouse. We heard the clatter of horses’ hooves as they drew the wealthy in their carriages. The stench of the gutters seemed to invade our nostrils and the moorland mist with the lurking of an escaped prisoner (in Great Expectations) created an atmosphere of tension and fear. He was equally good at drawing his characters, making us like some, and loathe others, share their satisfaction and anticipation, or disappointment and grief. Neither he nor his publishers shied away from life in the raw.
Most readers today want to experience the emotions and see the settings in their mind but do they have the time and patience to read through several paragraphs of scene description? Many prefer to jump straight into the story discovering the “who”, “when”, “where” and “why” in the first paragraph. “Aim to grab the readers’ interest in the first paragraph” is advice now given to new writers. In spite of all the modern gadgets which are supposed to make life easier time often seems too short. Also there are so many other distractions in the form of television, Sunday shopping, football matches and other sports, to name but a few. Many people still enjoy a “good read” but curling up for a few precious hours of peace with a good novel no longer has the same appeal in busy lives. Some read in snatches while travelling on the train, bus or tube.Recently one author, with over forty published novels, was preparing her early stories for uploading as digital editions for e-readers. She was surprised to find she had been so verbose when she began writing and she is determined to change them. `Why did my editor let me get away with it?’ she asks. This is what I mean by changing fashion. Longer descriptions and a scattering of adverbs and adjectives were perfectly acceptable thirty years ago. Today many publishers, including mine, have very set rules about the length of novel they will accept. Is this changing fashion due to the influence of readers who prefer shorter novels and short story collections? Or is it the economics of production and cost of storage? Paper is expensive and we are all under continual pressure to consider resources and the future of the planet.
What do other people think? Do fashions change when it comes to books?