Whither the book?

06 Apr

The Economist | The Late American Novel

Apr 5th 2011, 16:16 by M.Y. | NEW YORK

ASKING a writer for his thoughts on the future of books seems a bit like asking a pastry chef for his views on the future of cake. Or a furrier about the future of muffs. Mercifully, the writers assembled to hold forth on the subject in “The Late American Novel“, a collection of essays from Rivka Galchen, Marco Roth, Jonathan Lethem, Deb Olin Unferth and others, are more eloquent than the average fondant-wielder or chinchilla-sourcer. They appear more ambivalent about their craft, too.

It is indeed time to step back and evaluate the old-fashioned book. Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee, the editors of “The Late American Novel”, find the advent of e-readers and near infinite data-storage capacity to be “as new and potentially paradigm-shifting as those first German bibles”. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. If e-books, with their low prices and instant-download appeal, do indeed undermine sales of paper books, what sort of reading culture will emerge? Or, as the editors put it, “Can you really say you’re reading a book without holding one in your hands?” And where does this leave book publishers? With profit margins for digital books almost as narrow as those for print margins—and behemoths like Apple and Amazon setting the terms for sales—it is difficult to see how any but the most flexible publishers will survive the transition, as The Economist argues.

The question of reading technology remains an open one: are we looking at a widely beneficial rising tide or a drought? In this collection Jay Meno, a novelist and playwright, splits the difference more

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Posted by on 06/04/2011 in Articles


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