"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

You may know that as the famous first part of the first line of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, one of the best-known authors to have novels serialized for his clamoring 19th-century audience. Later this week, we'll find out if it's the best of times or the worst of times for New York Times Co. (NYSE:NYT) when it reports earnings. For now, while we wait, we learn that it's serializing books as newspaper inserts.

In recent months, we have been privy to information suggesting that these are tough times for newspapers. Weak advertising revenues, in many cases, continue to dog many of the players.

Book serialization is a new idea from The New York Times to try to boost readership and ad dollars. The books include The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, and Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote.

Read novels? Who, us? A recent Times article outlined the sorry state of reading in America. Culled from 2002 U.S. Census Bureau data, it said that only 56.6% of people have read a book within the last year. Further, less than half of the respondents over the age of 18 read novels, short stories, plays, or poetry.

There have been bright spots, like the runaway success of Scholastic's (NASDAQ:SCHL) Harry Potter series, as well as Oprah's book picks, which even rejuvenated such classics as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. (Don't miss Tim Beyers' recent piece where he crowns Oprah queen of investing.)

Sure, compelling, serialized fiction might be a draw for the planes, trains, and automobiles commuter crowd who pass newsstands daily and need entertainment for their rides. Unless, of course, they're glued to other media that may be more portable and addictive than a newspaper, a la Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) soon-to-launch Portable Media Centers.

In a society where the Internet's instant gratification is a strong draw, and print publications can seem stale, it's hard to imagine fervor for the serialized novel. Also, free access to these books would be as easy as a trip to the public library (not to mention result in less newsprint ink on one's fingers). There's always Borders (NYSE:BGP), Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS), or discounter Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), too.

Though it's a nice idea when many could use a little added incentive to read the classics, it's not an initiative that seems likely to drive dollars for the Times.

Do you love to read contemporary literature or the classics? Talk to Fools about great summertime reading on the Reading Room or Book Club discussion boards.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any companies mentioned, but she still reads books and literature.