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Twenty-six.  It’s a rather depressing number.  No one ever ran home to Mama waving a copy of a test with a “26” on the front.  But that’s the number representing the percentage of New York City schoolchildren in grades three through eight, according to The Times, who can demonstrate basic competency in reading and writing.  That number should certainly give pause to anyone thinking of quitting his day job to write and sell novels to the reading public. If things keep going the way they’re headed, it’s not a safe bet there will be a public able to read at all, much less one more interested in reading than tweeting, gaming, movies and, well, you know the curmudgeonly rest.  (Cranky Baby Boomers unite!)

But writers are addicted to their craft, and therefore the impulse to write and publish remains incurable.  There will be books galore no matter how many pairs of eyes ever see those printed pages.  Amen to that, I say.  No society ever crumbled under the weight of its books.

Speaking of reading, I am loving a great new legal cyber-thriller, The Adversarywritten by Reece Hirsch, another lawyer-cum-novelist whom I have not met, but who was introduced to me via email by my friend Al Shay.  Al has known me for over thirty-five years, since our college days at the University of Maryland.  That means, of course, that he has been a long-suffering beta reader of almost everything I have written since then and the cheerless recipient of endless notices about the “next big thing” on my publishing horizon.  Finally tiring of my various essays and memoirs, it was Al who encouraged me a few years back to “write a real book” like his colleague Reece Hirsch.  And so I did, and that book was The Prodigal—reminding Al forevermore to be careful what he wishes for.

Reece didn’t miss a beat in a high-powered legal career with a big firm on the west coast while writing and selling his successful and much-lauded debut novel,  The Insider, to Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin (and now part of Random House).  His latest offering is another thriller, published this time in serial installments, digitally, by Thomas & Mercer.  Serial fiction has a long and proud tradition that includes The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Anna Karenina, The Brother’s Karamazov, Huckleberry Finn, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to name only a few.  Books published serially inflamed the public’s desire to know what happens next, which is the beating heart of all good fiction.  It was this desire that led two billion (yes, that’s with a “b”) readers to buy Agatha Christi’s novels before Facebook, Twitter, texting and television came along to compete for our free time.

Perhaps in serialized novels lies the 26 percent solution for a whole new generation of  readers.   I highly recommend that you read Mr. Hirsch’s exciting new book and find out.