Right now I’m reading a book called Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Plot elements so far include old books, website design, custom fonts, data visualization, programming in Ruby, mysterious codes, a tour of Google, and offhand references to xkcd.
I feel as if this book was written specifically for a target audience of one: me. Who else absolutely adores this exact strange combination of things? Clearly Robin Sloan and I have some sort of telepathic link.
My husband and I felt the same way about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It’s a story about a young boy in 2044 who is obsessed with geek pop culture circa 1985 – so the whole book is full of references to things like Pac Man, Dungeons and Dragons, and Rush tunes. At one point, the lead character has to walk through the entirety of the movie War Games, scene for scene, line for line. I ask you, who other than people who are pretty much exactly my age – a teen in the mid-80s – would be the target market for such a slew of specific pop culture references? Ready Player One is being made into a movie, and I expect when my husband and I go see it, the theatre will be half-full of people exactly our age, give or take a year.
It’s a narrow audience, is what I’m saying.
The really great thing about both books, though, is that they speak directly to me, as if they were written for me. They won’t do the same for everyone, but I hear them. I’m on the same wavelength. And it thrills me that someone else out there seems to know exactly how I feel, to pinpoint my exact view of the world.
That’s just so cool.
Sometimes I get to feeling that there are too many aspiring storytellers in the world. That all the great novels have already been written. But then I find something like Mr. Penumbra, and I realize that finding your exact tribe, your exact inner circle, is a lifelong journey. You can write about your little, tiny perspective and think there’s never going to be anyone who gets it, and then suddenly, you find a few other people who DO. People who love your story and who find it unique and who never thought anyone would GET them, either.
It delights me to be the perfect audience for at least two books in this world. I’m going to keep writing until I find my own perfect audience, too.
Lee Ann says
Lynn, I find this a very inspiring post as a reader and as a writer! I’m thinking now about what books I think speak directly to me, with plot elements plucked from some period in my life – the formative one (i.e. teenage and early twenties) being late 1960 through the 70s. Not that I was in tune with all the pop stuff happening… I read more Hermann Hesse than Philip Roth or Margaret Atwood. So I haven’t yet come up with titles that would be my equivalent to your “Mr. Penumbra.” But I’ll keep thinking about it; I find the idea intriguing and if nothing else it will help me come up with a list of titles that shaped and influenced me. Something I think you’ve done, but I haven’t.
As a writer, I’ve never written the “in” thing. CanLit, when it finally came to maturity. Novels. I didn’t go to J-school and take the Pierre Berton route either. I’ve always been a poet, despite my foray into non-fiction history. Poets are always on the fringe, and it’s taken me a long time to become comfortable there.
All to say that your post has really grabbed my attention! Would love to chat more about the ideas here!