Join 3,372 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

hysteresis
September 28, 2007 12:12 PM   Subscribe

The death of the reader. As UK celebrity Jordan's "novel", Crystal, is outselling the entire Booker shortlist, it seems literature is becoming irrelevant.
posted by four panels (97 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
How many knee-jerk "Literature is dead" comments have been made over the centuries? Too many.

Face it, the masses NEVER read "literature." They read pap. Some of the pap was good enough to become literature in time. Every time a popular book that's aimed squarely at their target demographic sells well, we get the same stupid "Literature is dead" whine. Stop it, you elitist fuckwads!
posted by SansPoint at 12:18 PM on September 28, 2007 [7 favorites]


Maybe -- just maybe now -- literature as defined by an extremely narrow band of readers who have lost touch not only with non-readers but with millions of perfectly intellegent book-buyers is the only thing dying right now. And maybe, just maybe, that's a good thing.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2007 [8 favorites]


GET OFF MY LAWN!!!!
posted by DU at 12:21 PM on September 28, 2007


Apparently modern classical music is dying, too. I'm waiting for the funeral notice so I can plan travel arrangements to dance on its grave.
posted by athenian at 12:22 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Booker Shortlist.

Can't say like any of them look like fun, accessable reads intended to appeal to a mass audience (though I suspect most of them will be in print for a lot longer than Crystal).
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on September 28, 2007


The world'll be a slightly less annoying place when the smug cheapjack Cassandras who prophesize the death of the word realize and admit that it is not literature that's irrelevant and obsolete, it's them.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:29 PM on September 28, 2007


One of the interesting stories of the 20th century is the decline and ultimate complete debasement of popular culture. When you look back at the 40s and 50s, you see poets, great literary figures, and so on apparently sitting in the same arena as singers, etc.

But as time went on, you get more and more crap media, until you get to today. A lot of people lament that, but I actually have three theories about why it's not so bad after all.

For one thing, "intellectualism" is simply more historically salient. Historians write about what historians care about, and one thing they don't care about is the banal pop culture of the era. So not only is hindsight 20/20, it's also rose colored.

Another one is that you now have more and more ability to record things perminantly. This doesn't apply so much to a comparison of 50 years ago to today, but it does when you try to compare 100 years ago to today. And people just didn't take the time to write about or record "crap"

And finally, and lastly the debasement of culture may actually be a symptom of something good, the fact that more and more people are wealthy, and can consume. 100 years ago, the average shlub wouldn't own anything like a TV, or get a newspaper or even be able to read. The only "consumers" of media were the elites, but as more and more people left the ranks of the "too poor to consume" (even very poor people have televisions now) more and more crap media came up, and as they became more and more wealthy (compared to the poor of the past, rather then their wealthy contemporaries) it became more worthwhile to produce add supported content for them.

So it isn't that taste declined, but rather the group of people for whom content was produced became more and more broad, reducing the average quality of content but not the taste of the population.
posted by delmoi at 12:31 PM on September 28, 2007 [9 favorites]


Reading-is-dead anecdote:

A few weeks ago I exhibited at the SFX 2007 Fan Expo as a science-fiction author. By the end of the third day I had become a bit depressed by the sheer number of people who told me (apologetically or proudly), "I don't read."

One fellow seemed very interested in my wares until he actually opened the cover and frowned. "Oh," he said. "I thought they were graphic novels."

"No," I replied. "They're word-books."

"Thanks anyways."

My mongering strategy changed to target only people with greying hair, as they at least remembered leisure reading.
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 12:31 PM on September 28, 2007 [5 favorites]


Jordan? Crystal? Okay, lemme use the Googles here. Uh-huh. Okay, so Jordan is a publicity seeker who has written a novel (yes, not a "novel", a novel) about, um, "...some skank who skanks it up and gets implants." All righty, and now she has a new book out. So these things get read, right? So there are still readers out there, right?
posted by CCBC at 12:34 PM on September 28, 2007


We're amusing ourselves into Idiocracy.
posted by tula at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2007


science-fiction author

Isn't that a contradiction?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:38 PM on September 28, 2007


Ah... but their not reading (too quote one of the reviews, and a favourable one at that) "838-page epics with little describable plot". Therefore they are WRONG and do not count.
posted by Artw at 12:38 PM on September 28, 2007


I actually really enjoyed both of Pamela Anderson's romans à clef.
posted by jayder at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2007


So - what's new? The Sun has been outselling all the broadsheets put together since I can remember when. People wanting to read crap ain't front page news, so to speak....
posted by forallmankind at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2007


Yeah, sorry CheeseburgerBrown, what you do isn't Bookerish enough to be REAL writing. It probably even has a plot and stuff!
posted by Artw at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Jesus Christ, high culture, low culture is so fucking 80's - and it was old then! Get over yourselves.

This is one of the most astute businesswomen in the UK, regardless of how you feel she's making her money. Maybe you feel that's a reflection on this culture.

Fair play to her.
posted by Wilder at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2007


Like CCBC, I had no idea this person or book existed until this post.

Like delmoi, I believe that there has always been crap. (cf: Yellow journalism, pulp fiction) We were subjected to the glam metal bands of the 1980s, yet there still exists good music.
posted by desjardins at 12:43 PM on September 28, 2007


I thought it was the internet that was killing books. I mean, you give people instant communication, they're not going to sit around and talk about... oh. Hm.

I remember the good old pre-Deathly Hallows days, when this was all Harry Potter's fault.
posted by Tehanu at 12:47 PM on September 28, 2007


Words printed on paper with those pieces of paper being bound together are becoming irrelevant in an age when we have film, television, video games, graphic novels and the internet? Who on earth could have seen that coming? What next? The death of the pony express?

Fuck off literature.

Fuck off and die.
posted by ND¢ at 12:48 PM on September 28, 2007


Harry Potter is old news. It's some mormon tosh about Vampires kids are reading these days, or so I heard.
posted by Artw at 12:50 PM on September 28, 2007


Dismissed as pretentious twaddle. Moving on.
posted by tkchrist at 12:51 PM on September 28, 2007


Oh man, literature's finally over? Thank god. Now I can finally stop pretending I like Shakespeare and go to the bear-baiting matches instead.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:52 PM on September 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


(It may even come in a TXT edition for ND¢ )
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on September 28, 2007


It's not like people are passing up Pale Fire for this. These are, what, like trashy romance novels or something? The audience for any kind of pop fiction falls into three categories:

1. People who read "good" books, but like their escapism, too

2. People who exclusively read books in this genre

3. People who exclusively read books by this author

Nowhere will you find anyone who was once a "serious" reader of "serious" fiction, but has since been brainwashed into digesting a steady stream of junk literature. Those who dwell in category one will go on to read "real" books after they finish Crystal, rest assured (though they'll go on to read more genre fiction, too). Those in categories two and three have no interest in "serious" books, and wouldn't read them no matter what. Given a choice between this type of book and no book at all, those in category two would watch TV or surf the internet or go outside or something. Given a choice between this book and no book at all, same thing for category three. Those "serious" readers are not being lost; they never existed at all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:55 PM on September 28, 2007


The audience for any kind of pop fiction falls into three categories:

...makes me think of...

"For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five:
I can see this is good and I like it;
I can see this is good but I don't like it;
I can see this is good and, though at present I don't like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it;
I can see that this is trash but I like it;
I can see that this is trash and I don't like it."
-- W.H. Auden, A CERTAIN WORLD
posted by jbrjake at 1:07 PM on September 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


I don't want to get into a fight about this shit, but as someone who studied literature as his major in college I will say this, and feel free to disagree if you want:

Widespread commercial appeal is often one of the primary criteria "highbrow" literature readers use to determine if they consider something "literature" instead of just popular fiction. that is to say: if the book seems to have a lot of widespread commercial appeal, it is considered not literature. if it seems to be difficult and therefore unlikely to appeal to the majority of readers, that gives it more credibility as literature. I make no judgements on whether this is merited or understandable.
posted by shmegegge at 1:08 PM on September 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


The more I read, the more I feel that the importance of classic literature is more historical than enlightening. There are more great works than anyone could ever read, available from any discipline across several centuries. Human success has killed classical education, so screw Samuel Beckett. I'm going to read something written by a bored housewife in Chattanooga who took up writing fiction on an online message board after Fox canceled "The Lone Gunmen," and I'm going to feel awesome about it.
posted by zennie at 1:09 PM on September 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


Can someone come forward with proof that, say, 10 years ago, the Booker Prize nominees sold better than shitty romance novels? Because for this to be a trend, I need evidence that the opposite used to happen.

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that the Booker Prize noms have consistently sold shitty.

Oh no! Spiderman 3 made more money than all of the Oscar nominees combined! Movies are dead!
posted by graventy at 1:09 PM on September 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


My sister once told me that she didn't like the books I recommended to her to read because, "all it is is people's thoughts and stuff, and nothing ever really happens" (the books were Atonement, The Moviegoer, and Gilead). Of course, she's completely right. Just like reality TV is a cheap form of voyeurism, so is good literature an easy and appealing but ultimately false way into the mind of another person. It pleases some people and bores most. I'd like to drape my interest in fiction in something like nobility or empathy - that I enjoy and am fascinated by the lives of other people, their thoughts and histories, and good fiction provides that - but that's not really the case; ultimately it's just something that provides me with some small measure of comfort and satisfaction and I'd rather not explore the perversions or deficiencies that make that so.
posted by billysumday at 1:10 PM on September 28, 2007


Just like reality TV is a cheap form of voyeurism

As opposed to an expensive form of voyeurism? Isn't "voyeurism" pretty much free?

You mean the exact opposite. Reality TV is commodified voyeurism.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hey Cheeseburger, as far as I can tell from their web site, you were at what people who read science fiction call, "a media con". Let's just say your experience doesn't surprise me and leave it at that.

I'm not sure what your background is, but when you are checkign these things out in the future ask who some of their previous guests were. Listen for the names of authors. If the phrase, "they guy who played..." comes up more than three times before they mention an author you've heard of, just hang up.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:20 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, they could mean cheap in the sense that reality TV makes voyeurism much easier - the subjects are easy to understand and often reduced to ciphers, you know when and where they'll be at a certain time, and you don't have to take three buses to get to their house.

Or rather, to the tall tree kitty-corner to their house.

What?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:20 PM on September 28, 2007


If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that the Booker Prize noms have consistently sold shitty.

I'm pretty sure you'd be wrong about that. A Booker nomination is one of the strongest marketing boosts a new book can have in the UK. Provided the content isn't completely obscure, there's a good chance the winner will be a major best seller.

This book will sell by the boatload, not because it's a romance novel, but because it carries a celebrity brand.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:21 PM on September 28, 2007


"I would suggest that we are not really comparing like with like. "

It's very like a recent argument we had about Nader voters. The assumption here is that Jordan's readers would ever have read one of the books on the Booker shortlist.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2007


As opposed to an expensive form of voyeurism? Isn't "voyeurism" pretty much free?

No, no, cheap like: of little account; of small value; mean; shoddy
posted by billysumday at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2007


While I won't say that literature is dead, it sure seems like the study of literature is. It is, indeed, a laughingstock.
posted by malaprohibita at 1:27 PM on September 28, 2007


I'd like to point out that the four panels' first link is to a blog post saying that it's just fine that good books sell badly, and that Beckett's sold badly back in our precious 1940s, and that we should, if anything, be a little suspicious that McEwan sells so well. Given that someone posts a death-of-literature thread on meta about every week we could have at least made this one interesting by responding to the FPPs (very mildly) thought-provoking argument.

My current theory, for what it's worth, is that in order to like "good books" you have to have read a lot of other good books (Pale Fire is pretty dull, for example, if you haven't taken at least a quick gander at Pope and Shakespeare) and that takes time and education and why should we be remotely surprised this remains an elite, minority activity just like it always has been?
posted by sy at 1:29 PM on September 28, 2007


I'm so NOT reading that article.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:33 PM on September 28, 2007


I have long thought that contemporary literary fiction is mostly intentionally impenetrable collections of vague allusions written by and for Ivy League grad students.

Only mostly though.
posted by Mister_A at 1:34 PM on September 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


100 years ago, the average shlub wouldn't own anything like a TV, or get a newspaper or even be able to read.

delmoi, this is untrue, at least in the U.S. There were far more newspapers in New York City in 1900 than there are now, and many of them were aimed at newly arrived immigrants (many of whom could erad in their own languages, but not English). and, of course, there weren't any TVs 100 years ago. Music halls were enormously popular among the poor and working classes, who consumed media just like the elites did, but in a different form, and forum. There was plenty of "lowbrow" entertainment then, and plenty of people consumed it.

That said, the article's stupid.
posted by rtha at 1:40 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and one other thing - the other day I was watching Hidden (Cache). In the film, the main character was the host of some PBS-esque show in which prominent public scholars and authors discuss books and literature! And it wasn't a joke! It was real - they really have shows like that on TV in France!
posted by billysumday at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2007


Ah... but their not reading (too quote one of the reviews...

This was a jokey post in a thread about illiteracy, right?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2007


the other day I was watching Hidden (Cache). In the film, the main character was the host of some PBS-esque show in which prominent public scholars and authors discuss books and literature! And it wasn't a joke! It was real - they really have shows like that on TV in France!

They also have straight razors, apparently... *shudder*
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:50 PM on September 28, 2007


Historians write about what historians care about, and one thing they don't care about is the banal pop culture of the era.

Alive and well in Cultural Studies and English Departments, I feel compelled to note.
posted by jokeefe at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2007


... good literature an easy and appealing but ultimately false way into the mind of another person.

You know, I almost never hear anybody actually say this, but it just seems so goddamned obvious to me. People usually dismiss me as some kind of solpsist when I say it, though.
posted by lodurr at 2:05 PM on September 28, 2007


[reading literature] remains an elite, minority activity just like it always has been?

I suppose that depends on what you call 'literature'. Some stuff we call 'literature' today was fabulously successful in its time.

So it seems to me we're still being pretty imprecise with the term. I agree with the several folks who've remarked that we often write something off if it's "easy" to read or successful, but what then about Hemmingway or Fitzgerald or Twain?

I think 'literature' is nearly a useless term, once you're done parsing all the exceptions. We have to characterize what kind of literature is failing.

Once we've brought it down to that level, it's easy to see that it's just the same damn thing that's always happened: Stuff changes, writers adapt or don't.

Or, as per the articles, professors adapt or don't.
posted by lodurr at 2:13 PM on September 28, 2007


The 2007 Booker Shortlist:

* Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
* The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
* The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
* Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
* On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)
* Animal's People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)

Why would anyone want to read these books? None of them sound at all interesting. But what would reading these books tell me that I didn't already know? Maybe the fundamentalist one would have some interesting details about a different culture, but why not read a real history book on the subject?

What is this kind of literature really for?

I'd honestly rather read Jordan's ghost-written crap than most of those. At least it's unpretentious.
posted by Bletch at 2:16 PM on September 28, 2007


Actually i think I read about Mister Pip somewhere and it sounded kind-of interesting, but it's not high on my list of books to check out right now.
posted by Artw at 2:19 PM on September 28, 2007



Bruce Sterling: Author 2.0 Feeling Great; Audience is Dead.

Sounds like Crystal has found her audience. It just happens to be bigger than the audience for "literature".

(If you're a fan of plot, "Reluctant Fundamentalist" does not fail to deliver, btw.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:25 PM on September 28, 2007


It makes a bit of splash every year but that's about it... and I usually pick up the winner in the book shop, read a bit and think 'hmmm not for me again'. I would like to think I was reasonably well read, even reading cough cough 'literature' but whatever wins, the book seems just to target a certain very narrow taste.

Other prizes like the Costa (the old Whitbread) seem to throw much more readable, interesting and dare I say it 'better' choices, like last years' "The Tenderness of Wolves" by Stef Penney
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:32 PM on September 28, 2007


Heh. Turns out I've read 2 Whitbreads, as opposed to 1 Booker. Advantage Costa!
posted by Artw at 2:44 PM on September 28, 2007


I'm sure Ian McEwan has sold more books this year than Jordan has, anyway. Its just that they are all copies of Atonement and not On Chesil Beach
posted by ZippityBuddha at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2007


Atonement is boring as shit. Literature can be fun - Denis Johnson, Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace. It doesn't always have to be Shakespeare vs boxing or something. And Jonathan Franzen can suck it.
posted by four panels at 3:04 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


four panels: "As UK celebrity Jordan's "novel", Crystal, is outselling the entire Booker shortlist, it seems literature is becoming irrelevant."

I'm certain every one of the people who read it did so because they were expecting brilliant literature.
posted by koeselitz at 3:14 PM on September 28, 2007


WTF is Jordan? And why did he or she (or it? or they?) write a novel?
posted by Naberius at 3:21 PM on September 28, 2007


I don't get the Jordan bashing here.

I'm sure this "Crystal" does absolutely nothing to tie together all the loose plot threads, and I'm sure Rand or whoever spend the majority of the book whining and not ever doing anything but, Christ, show some respect for the dead.

Wait, what?
posted by lord_wolf at 4:05 PM on September 28, 2007


BOOKS WITH NO PLOT R HIFLUTIN AMIRITE
posted by everichon at 4:16 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh, for God's sake. Take a look at the bestseller lists for the last 100 years and see how many classics of literature are there. You will occasionally see an appearance by Hemingway, Steinbeck or Nabakov -- but it's mostly crap, all the way through. Crap sells, it has always sold, and it will always sell. Moreover great literature often isn't identified as such for years afterward.

Of course this chippy's book is selling better than the books on the Booker shortlist; it would have happened that way in 1907, too (factor in your various time and society equivalences, please). People haven't changed that much.
posted by jscalzi at 4:26 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Atonement is boring as shit.

Seconded.

Which reminds me I abandoned it twice before giving up entirely. Read like it was written by someone who thought Tess of the D'Urbervilles would've been a much stronger novel if only it were a good deal more plodding and mannered.

Seems to me - and here I'm overgeneralizing a touch, but nowhere near as much as the linked screed - but seems to me that those who lament loudest for the death of literature are those who preen most noisily about how they don't own TVs. Always makes me wonder if they think that, say, Hemingway never listened to the radio or Conrad never rode a steam-powered boat.

In other words, if your literary criticism is this fully dominated by people who are terrified of the contemporary world, how is it in any way a surprise that the contemporary world would rather read someone else?
posted by gompa at 4:30 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


On further review, that should probably read "literary culture."

On even further review, I bet you could club Ian McEwen to death with a hardback copy of Infinite Jest, four panels. And I'd strongly encourage you to, if I weren't a pacifist by nature.
posted by gompa at 4:34 PM on September 28, 2007


Oh no! Spiderman 3 Oscar nominees made more money than all of the Oscar nominees arthouse movies combined! Movies are dead!

Much better now.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:38 PM on September 28, 2007


Pale Fire is pretty dull, for example, if you haven't taken at least a quick gander at Pope and Shakespeare

Do you mean that Pale Fire - about the funniest book ever written - can actually become even better? And all I have to do is take a quick flick through Pope?

Once again, my $5 here has repaid itself a thousand times over.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:41 PM on September 28, 2007


(by "about the about the funniest book ever written, i mean, "up there with most of Beckett's work", even if that pales in comparison with something written by a bored housewife in Chattanooga who took up writing fiction on an online message board after Fox canceled "The Lone Gunmen")
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:43 PM on September 28, 2007


Which reminds me I abandoned it twice before giving up entirely. Read like it was written by someone who thought Tess of the D'Urbervilles would've been a much stronger novel if only it were a good deal more plodding and mannered.

I've not read "Atonement", but the above cracks me up having read "Tess of the D'bervilles".


UbuRoivas, yeah Oscars have very little to do with art in general.
posted by Eekacat at 5:08 PM on September 28, 2007


delmoi writes "So it isn't that taste declined, but rather the group of people for whom content was produced became more and more broad, reducing the average quality of content but not the taste of the population"

So the cause of the decline of quality should be found in the enlargment of target audience AND the increased amount of free time of this larger audience ; given that targeting selectively a wider audience is more difficult, an increasing number of program attempts to use lowest commond denominators , or specializes like cable channels, or both : takes only one topic and primarily the most easily understood aspect of the topic.

Yet I guess the cofactor, or maybe the primary cause should be found in the business model, that relies on reaching as many people as possible for various financial and economic reasons and is incentivated by advertisement bonuses, the wider the audience the more money you get ; on top of this we have the decreased cost media and the relatively larger number of contenders. That definitely drives business into looking for something that can reach as many as possible, as consistently as possible.

I guess that it would remain true even if , thanks to a miracle, all the audience had a Phd or college level education ...even if it probably wouldn't be as miserable.
posted by elpapacito at 5:20 PM on September 28, 2007


In the film, the main character was the host of some PBS-esque show in which prominent public scholars and authors discuss books and literature! And it wasn't a joke! It was real - they really have shows like that on TV in France!

I hear America actually has an entire channel just for shows that are "PBS-esque", but darned if I can remember the name of it.
posted by Smallpox at 5:27 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


i nearly saw jordan signing books in woolies once.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:47 PM on September 28, 2007


(unfortunately, borat got there first)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:54 PM on September 28, 2007


Literature will stop being dead as soon as the people who currently define 'literature' from the top down figure out the way in which modern readers and authors are defining literature from the bottom up.

Until then, and I'm not holding my breath, I'll pay more attention to Hugo award winners than Booker. Which isn't to say I don't also appreciate the sort of books currently defined as literature, I do. I just think that the definition is limited unnecessarily.
posted by Arturus at 6:33 PM on September 28, 2007


I've spent the better part of this week trying to edumacate myself on analogue tape recorder alignment. I read up on bias, azimuth, and the like, I conferred with the kind people on the Sound on Sound forums, and then I opened up the beast, broke out the multimeter, and generated some test tones from a PC. After half an hour, I gave up. I'm still convinced I can do it, but is it worth it when I've got computers available to record music on at a moment's notice? Which, surely, generate problems of their own - but problems which can generally be solved within a few hours using the Internet or otherwise by tossing out the culprit and just shelling out a few tenners for a shiny new one?

I read books on the bus. I often want to read a few pages before going to sleep, and I really want to, but there's laptops all over the house now and it's just so convenient and tempting to scan Popurls for the last time and then pop off to dreamland. Pretty much the only window of opportunity I and society leave me (in equal parts?) for actual dead tree perusal is in the 30, 45 minutes a day spent on public transport.

My point being: when does opting for "old tech" because it's a useful alternative become a quixotic attempt at keeping obsolete rituals alive?

They were wrong about vinyl. DJ culture has single-handedly reinvigorated the viability of records, and indie geeks left and right still adhere the shellac religiously. I might have got frustrated with the tape machine this week, but I'll still use it, although I know it's hardly the only option. And major studios are still using tape every day. As for books, well things may have changed but these bound stacks of printed paper aren't going away any time soon, I'm convinced, and no vapid Peter Andre-dating beast of a woman nor her silicon babylons are going to change any of that. And if you think they are, then you're just tilting at windmills.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:48 PM on September 28, 2007


why do we - or anybody else, for that matter - keep having this discussion, anyway? it's little more than one big "your favourite author or genre sucks" argument.

personally, i've got a backlog of maybe up to 100 books picked up at 2nd hands stores to get through, and dozens of authors and 'schools' still completely untouched to look forward to.

whatever other people choose to read is their pigeon - i really couldn't give a flying fuck what other people read*, and i don't see why anybody else should, either. as far as i'm concerned, there's enough 'literature' out there to last me a few lifetimes at least, and i cannot see any point or truth in proclaiming it dead.

* despite having probably labelled all harry potter & graphic novel fans as morons here in the past, i really don't care. de gustibus & all that...
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:51 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


GNFTI: on old v new media - like you, my prime reading time is on public transport. or, it was, until i started cycling almost everywhere. since then, i've dropped from about a novel a week to something like one every month or so. this troubles me somewhat, but for some reason the appeal of shiny new web 2.0 baubles is almost always more appealing at home than sitting down with a book these days.

but opting for 'old tech' in the form of books is in no way quixotic. the fact is that books are a perfect format for people on the go - they take up little space, are relatively durable, have no theft value, and printed matter remains about the easiest on the eye to read in varied conditions, and especially when large amounts of text are involved. this is why e-book technology has never ever taken off. who actually reads project gutenberg books online? very few people, i imagine.

i suppose the big question is whether the multi-thousand word format of books is itself in danger of being superseded by the mini-bites offered by new technologies, and the users' own abilities to decide how to explore a work (where 'work' could be defined as all of flickr, for example, or all of metafilter, or indeed everything that can be explored as a tangent to these or other springboards, which is to say, pretty much everything)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:02 PM on September 28, 2007


It's terrible. I get so sick of people reading that popular serialised junk like what that Mr Dickens is publishing in the papers. They should read some real literature!
posted by tomble at 7:25 PM on September 28, 2007


(well, that's not actually ironic. dickens *is* junk. as are austen, the brontes, etc, but dickens really is particularly shitty pulp fiction)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:28 PM on September 28, 2007


Lumping Austen in with the Brontes? Isn't that a bit like lumping Wodehouse in with Henry James?
posted by lodurr at 7:33 PM on September 28, 2007


if you want to split hairs, yes.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:54 PM on September 28, 2007


No, if I want to split hares, I'll lump together Jones and Avery.
posted by lodurr at 6:13 AM on September 29, 2007


Bletch: Why would anyone want to read these books? None of them sound at all interesting. But what would reading these books tell me that I didn't already know?

What billysumday said: it's a way to get inside someone else's head, to understand how the world looks from their point of view. This doesn't mean it has to be boring and pretentious. It means the writer has to be able to combine a powerful imagination with a compelling story, one that makes you want to find out what happens next.

Iain Banks:
Canal Dreams came about from a kind of exercise I set for myself once; to find some nice enclosed setting for a thriller, or at least some tense story. I recalled the ships that were trapped at the southeast end of the Suez canal after the six-day war; I thought that would have been an interesting place for a story; limited, imprisoning, concentrating. I suppose I could have done a recent-history novel set there and then but that seemed pointless, so I thought of the world's other great canal, the Panama, and already knew that it had to be handed back at the turn of the century, and... well it all just fell into place.

I know I wanted politics in it and then I wanted some central character who wasn't a ship's officer, who had to be outside of the ship in some way. For some bizarre reason that got entangled with an idea I'd had of somebody being killed with a cello spike. Before I knew it the obvious thing seemed to be to make the central character a middle-aged lady Japanese cello virtuoso who was afraid of flying. It just seemed inevitable...
Does Iain Banks know what it's like to be a middle-aged lady Japanese cellist? No, but he's got a good imagination.

I wonder if I can read the Booker shortlist before this thread gets closed.
posted by russilwvong at 8:09 AM on September 29, 2007


Everyone has already made the same point, but ...

Take the Village Voice Pop/Jazz selections from the '80s and '90s and compare them to Billboard Hot 100 charts. Phil Collins likely outsold the top 10 critic picks.

Markets change. Art does not. "Literature" (if we've arrived at an acceptable definition yet) will never die until humans do.

The 2007 Booker Shortlist:

* Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
* The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
* The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
* Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
* On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)
* Animal's People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)

Why would anyone want to read these books?


I dunno. Why does anyone read any book? Why would anyone read Ulysses, The Tunnel, or the Last Samurai (trying to look like I read women authors ...)?

I admit I don't like McEwan, and I've never read any of the rest of them. However, after you posted that, I checked out the first book and I would read it. In fact, I think I will. I enjoy showoffs. That's why I love Underworld, Infinite Jest, Mason & Dixon, etc.

Anyway, what were we talking about ...
posted by mrgrimm at 11:52 AM on September 29, 2007


tl;dr
posted by sperose at 12:05 PM on September 29, 2007


Does Iain Banks know what it's like to be a middle-aged lady Japanese cellist? No, but he's got a good imagination.

I'm not sure that's a great example as Canal Dreams is generally acknowledged to be one of his worse books.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:08 PM on September 29, 2007


Markets change. Art does not.

I really, really don't know what you mean by that. Do you mean that what art is (versus what constitutes art in any given time) does not change? I.e., that while the expressions of artistic impulse change (now it's Andrew Lloyd Weber's Cats on a Hot Tin Roof, yesterday it was Lord Jim), the underlying impulse does not?
posted by lodurr at 5:37 PM on September 29, 2007


The other issue with the high culture/low culture argument is that it's very Western-centric - you'll hardly find non-Western writing unless it's in relation to "ooh look at this exotic country!".
posted by divabat at 10:29 PM on September 29, 2007


The Observer has just published a handy guide on how to write a best seller just like Jordan's.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:29 AM on September 30, 2007


Under her real name, Katie Price, she has also written a series of pony books for younger readers. She's a keen and adroit horsewoman, as well as a shrewd businesswoman, and her pony stories focus on the importance of friendship and fair play, working together to overcome difficulties, with good winning out in the end.

The only danger is, though, that your horse-mad 10-year-old, having read all the pony books, looks on Amazon to see what else she's written and orders one of her Jordan books ...
posted by essexjan at 5:22 AM on September 30, 2007


Hang on, your're syaing Jordan actually wrote her book?
posted by Artw at 8:00 AM on September 30, 2007


Hang on, your're syaing Jordan actually wrote her book?

Ahem... from the above linked article: "Employ a ghostwriter. Only losers write their own books."
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:12 PM on September 30, 2007


The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Read this one today. Recommended. Difficult to discuss without giving away the plot; if you want to read it, I'd suggest avoiding reviews. Quite short (180 pages).
posted by russilwvong at 11:31 PM on September 30, 2007


fearfulsymmetry: I'm not sure that's a great example as Canal Dreams is generally acknowledged to be one of his worse books.

Sure, but it's a great premise. Especially the part about the cello spike.
posted by russilwvong at 11:33 PM on September 30, 2007


Wait a minute! According to the vicious slam against Jordan linked by fearfulsymmetry, Crystal has sold 144.5K copies while On Chesil Beach has sold 113.6K. 113000! And he hasn't even won the damn Booker yet! (Much less have really cool pink-purple-silver covers and nifty fashion references.) Most writers would be happy just to sell the 31000 difference, much less 100K. I think Banks is on course to win this horse race and all the whiners are just jealous of Jordan and her richly deserved success. After Banks outsells Jordan I want to see articles about the return of High Art and The Cultivated Reader and How Harry Potter Saved Western Literature and all that kind of stuff. Otherwise I shall feel manipulated and cheated and go pout in the corner with a comic book or pornography or something. I might even pick up a copy of Crystal.
posted by CCBC at 3:46 AM on October 1, 2007


CCBC: I realize we've been talking about Iain Banks, but it's actually Ian McEwan who's on the Booker shortlist. Sorry for the confusion. (McEwan previously won the Booker for Amsterdam, an amusing story of rivalry and euthanasia.)
posted by russilwvong at 11:20 AM on October 1, 2007


Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Also recommended. Two down.
posted by russilwvong at 11:33 PM on October 2, 2007


russilwvong: actually I know the difference between Ian and Iain but suffered a disabling brain fart while posting.
posted by CCBC at 12:53 AM on October 4, 2007


Just finished On Chesil Beach. I think you're right, McEwan may well outsell Jordan in the end.

Also read The Gathering. I found it a bit complicated (there's three different timelines, and a whole slew of characters--the narrator is one of 12 children), but still compelling.

Two to go. Of the four I've read so far, I liked The Reluctant Fundamentalist the best.

After I finish the Booker shortlist, I think I'm going to have to read Crystal. Looks like it hasn't been released in North America yet.
posted by russilwvong at 9:29 AM on October 10, 2007


I finished Animal's People on the weekend, but the copy of Darkmans I ordered through my local bookstore still hasn't arrived yet.

And the winner is: The Gathering, by Anne Enright.
posted by russilwvong at 11:06 AM on October 17, 2007


I'm assuming that any one of the elitists that are shouting that literature is dead have not yet read Jordan's masterpiece.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:40 AM on October 17, 2007


Just finished Darkmans. I was surprised to see that it's more than 800 pages long, i.e. longer than The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mister Pip, and On Chesil Beach put together. Entertaining in a quite different way from the other shortlist candidates--full of strange characters and even stranger occurrences.
'Hello? Are you there? I saw was Beede on one of them?'

'No!' Kane snapped, exasperated. 'Beede was with me. I saw one horse. But the boy said that only by using two horses could you have managed the change-over so quickly. The swap. Like in a trick. A magic trick...'

'Swap? Who swapped?'

The German sounded terrified.

'You and the other man. The ...' Kane struggled to describe him, 'the strange ... the creepy ...'

'Which man?' The German rasped.

Kane closed his eyes and tried to visualise--

Black
Yellow
Black


He shuddered, 'The dark man ...'

And then he found himself hissing--'... Ssssssss!'

Good God!

It was hissing--'Darkmansssss.'

Kane quickly clamped his errant lips shut--

Where?

How?
What the ... ?!


Isidore hung up.
posted by russilwvong at 8:39 AM on October 20, 2007


« Older Bo Fo' Sho'...  |  There are three nights left in... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments