Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The literary death spiral

One of the most unfortunate developments of recent months, both in the UK and in the US, has been the shrinking or outright disappearance of book review sections. Fiction, in particular, is no longer covered by many national newspapers, and non-fiction is being squeezed too.

In America, one of the last two major, stand-alone print book sections was killed off last month, when The Washington Post published its last edition of Book World. The paper will still review books, but only The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle will continue to run a full mini-magazine devoted to books. It is a heavy symbolic blow to readers, writers and publishers.

A recent op-ed piece by Dick Meyer in the NPR (National Public Radio) newspaper in America reports on this trend, and why it matters.

He wrote: "In the cosmic sense, the same trends that threaten newspapers threaten books. It isn't just a matter of "business models" and the proliferation of alternative and cheap forms of amusement — computers, mobile, video games and everything on demand, all the time. There is an aversion to long chunks of sentences.

"And there is a literary death spiral. The less we read books, the less we read journalism; the less we read journalism, the less we read books. Reading skills atrophy or, worse, were never properly acquired to their fullest. The dire problem is that long chunks of sentences are still the best way humans have to express complex thoughts, intricate observations, fleeting emotions — the whole range of what we are...

"Newspaper critics had a special role, exposing a large, general readership to a wide variety of writers, books and genres with at least a modicum of fairness, civility and erudition... More important, the collapse of professional reviewing is just part of a cultural devaluing of books and even formally written words."

Meyer concludes gloomily that: "It is unclear whether the American attention span can support book reading for much longer. As children are reared on "Baby Einstein" and then fertilized by an ever expanding diet of fast-paced electronic stimulation, as our communication gets sliced and diced into instant messages and abbreviated e-mails, it would be unrealistic to expect our synapses to stay the same. We will simply like books less than we did.

"In capitalism, value is allocated in the form of money. That less money is being allocated to books and book publicity means that the society values books less."

You can read the whole piece here:

Is this view too defeatist? Or is the book destined to go the way of the epic poem and the clay tablet?


Raquel Sar√°ngello said...

increiblemente bello

Philip Sington said...

La foto no es mio, desafortunadamente!
Gracias pos su visita.