questionsis the overall quality of published books…

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With the lack of bookstores, The growth of Ebooks and the use of formulas in creating new books I would say literary fiction is taking a nose dive. There are very few real authors and lots of less than splendid works of fiction. We are drowning in a sea of books with very little fresh water(Good books).

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I disagree. I am finding a wide variety of new fiction authors that are satisfying my needs. In fact, it is my impression that the quality is improving, not declining. I used to love reading Tom Clancy, but he fell off the radar for a long time. He was replaced by several people of that genre, including Vince Flynn who just died of prostate cancer. I am currently reading John Gilstrap's first book (Nathan's Run) and am astonished at the quality of his prose, especially for his first novel (He has others published, but I'm starting with his first.) Locally in the Seattle area, we have Robert Ferrigno who has written several worthwhile books, including his "Assassin" trilogy (I didn't like the third one, but have enjoyed everything else). As I have aged, I am finding more and more worthwhile new authors. None are perfect, but they are definitely worth my time.

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I tend to think like that for a period after exhausting the writings of a favorite author. After a few misses, I generally find more wonderful reads.

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If we're talking literature, I can list a few authors who are writing great fiction and non-fiction ( and I'm a picky reader). If we're talking more "casual" books, I'm not sure I could tell. I read, outside of proper literature, only Crichton and only rarely, although I would actually like to find more "casual" authors that I can read while camping at the beach or in the cabin in the winter.

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I believe good literature is still out there in amounts similar to the past. However, it is awash in a sea of self-published books and electronic blogging. Also, in today's climate, the almighty dollar compels otherwise great authors to write sensational pap for the masses.

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In 2010, there were 328,259 new titles and editions published in the US alone according to Bowker's table of new book tiles and editions. One would need to read quite a few of those to determine overall quality of the publications.
I have found that asking the local city librarian to make a recommendation for something new pays off about 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time I turn to my personal library and my ADD ensures that its an almost-new read every time!

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For me, I used to go to the bookstore and see many books by authors I was familiar with, and many books by new authors. I could get a hint of what to expect from the new authors by their shelf location and by blurbs on the cover. There were some duds, but when three favorite authors raved about a new author's book, it was a pretty good bet.

Now in the bookstores it's almost all the old gang, except for the occasional 50 Shades of Hysteria. If I want new authors I've got to look at self-published, but I might as well be looking for the best drop of water in the ocean.

I think you've hit on one reason why my reading has fallen off lately.

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since anyone can publish anything right now, yes, there is more crap out there. There is, however, just as much quality material as there ever was, if not more. It's just a bit more complicated to find the good stuff.

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Awful books (and music, and movies) are nothing new, but because of human nature we tend to assume the past was better. It wasn't. Think Nicholas Sparks and Wally Lamb suck today? They do, but fifty years ago we had Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins stinking up bestseller lists.

But what about 100 years ago, that more refined age of horse-drawn coaches and genteel manners? For every fondly-remembered work by Doyle or Dickens, there were hundreds of now-forgotten "penny dreadfuls", short and nearly unreadable, with most of the prose used to delay and drag out the meagre serial plot so the reader would have to buy more volumes to follow the lame, trite story.

But what about 200 years ago? In an era when literacy was rare and printing expensive, surely they wouldn't waste time printing crap back then! Wrong. Look up "Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful, Wonderful, and Interesting Scenery Around Loch-Earn". After that, even Oprah books look good.

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I was hoping this question would be addressing the actual physical quality of printed books. It seems to me that in the last couple of years there have been more printing errors, flimsier book bindings, and poorer editing/spell checking/proof reading. I could just be unlucky though and getting all the messed up books. I don't know.

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When I read your question, I thought you were talking about the quality of the books themselves, rather than the writing within. As a kid I read a book a day. I grew up and got busy with work, volunteer work and art, and found myself reading only a book or two a year on vacation. My eyes got older, and I needed glasses to read. I have extremely poor depth perception and glasses interfere with whatever compensatory mechanisms I have invented; wearing glasses aggravates and alienates me from most everything. I'm finally getting used to reading with them and am back to reading at least a book a week. I have noticed several things have changed in my absence from the reading world. Paperbacks have lost their heft. They feel light as feathers. Publishers have given up on original cover art in favor of digital manipulations. And editors have given up entirely. I find grammar and continuity errors in almost every new book I read. It makes me sad.

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@retorak: Digital! The quality is always the same (and reader, hardware+software, dependant).

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I have a problem with the binding on some of the new paperbacks. I don't know why, but it's really hard to keep them open. I can't figure out what they're doing different.

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Most likely, this same question was asked after the Guttenburg Bible was published. That next book was probably panned as being grossly inferior.

Honestly, other's before me have mentioned that, in the recent past, a LOT of books made the Best Seller's list, and they were really awful. IMO, they were. Much depends on what you like to read...and the place you are in your life. There are always good readable books to buy. Some excellent; some pure crap.

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Thank you all very much for your responses. I still intend to keep slogging through what is out there to find a good read, but it was interesting to read the variety of answers.