On an author's forum that I am active in there have been a lot of complaints about reviews being left by readers stating that the books were disjointed, had too many details, wandered all over the place, and made no sense. I am perfectly willing to concede that in a lot of cases this is true but I've noticed such complaints posted about books that I thought were wonderful, too.
I recently read Joyce Carol Oates' The Falls and thought it was excellent. The story was perfectly clear and linear for the first half of the book. In the second half she took more chances by dividing it into chapters told from the POVs of the three children – now adults – involved. I thought it was interesting and effective. The story was already well-established by this point in the story so there was nothing disjointed in my opinion. All three of the children grew to be adults not understanding why or how their father died. Each had their own issues with their parents and, consequently, their lives were shaped accordingly. I liked the book a lot.
So, I went to Amazon and Goodreads and started reading reviews left by other readers and I was sort of surprised by how many people stated the story made no sense, that it wandered all over the place, that it got bogged down (Oates does provide a lot of details but they are almost always interesting.) This intrigued me so I looked up a couple other books I'd enjoyed that were long, involved, but haunting, reads and I found quite a few similar reviews. I'm wondering, are readers' attention-spans diminishing?
Now I'm willing to admit that a lot of readers are just looking for a ripping good story that progresses in a fairly straight-forward manner from point to point There is nothing wrong with this and lots of writers – especially genre writers - provide that. If that's what you are looking for there's lots available. But when it comes to deeper, more complex stories, a limited attention-span probably struggles. Is this a thing authors should bear in mind when writing? Not really. You write to your readership.
Thanks to the ease, convenience, and privacy granted by ereaders, and the abundance of independent authors, readers who want story after story about vampires, dragons, or BDSM billionaires can read all day, every day and never run out of books. I, personally, am contemplating a series – all with cliff-hanger endings – called Wizard-Spanking Zombies. Or Zombie-Spanking Wizards. I figure with those three words in the series title, I can't go wrong.
Recently, a friend of mine, who has been a grade school teacher for over twenty years, told me something sad. She has always taught 4-5-6 grade learning-support kids and she has always read to her kids. Over the years she has told me about reading them the Harry Potter and other popular kids books but she said a few years ago she had to quit doing this. She said the kids demonstrated less and less ability to follow the stories or even remember what they were about from one day to the next. They got bored, restless and disruptive so she had to give it up. This is sad.
Right now reading is very hot and that is a good thing. I am always happy to hear people talk about what they are reading whatever it is. But, as more readers fall in love with the joy of losing themselves in a book, many of them will eventually explore beyond their preferred genre. Sometimes they will be thrilled by the great big reading world out there and some will rush back into the genre where they feel happiest and most at home. However, I hope readers will take chances on writing styles and story-lines that are a little challenging to them. Take a chance on new ideas, let your mind expand and explore. It's an exciting time to be a reader. And take time to think about what you are reading. A love affair with books can last a lifetime and you'll never, ever run out of lovers.
Thanks for reading.