Dear Authors, Your Next Book Should Be a Book Part 2

Annie Werner–of WTF Gallatin Majors–has posted a typically sharp response to Cody and me. I’ll admit she basically nails me here:

“What about the tactile sensation of reading? The physical artifact of a book? The way you can chart your progress through it by the movement of a bookmark?” Well, what about them? They’re essentially nostalgic abstractions that give a false sense of tangibility to something, and are not important to what is great about a great book—its core, its heart, its truth, what have you.

Point taken. But what I was trying (with limited success) to get at there is the big reason why I think novels–print novels–are going to remain more or less the way they are. This is going to sound like a lame tautology, but here goes: novels are perfect novels, and nothing will ever be better at being a novel than the novel. Because while technology will improve and generate new mediums, those won’t be novels. And because novels have demonstrated the capacity–time and time again–to be great, timeless masterpieces, I don’t see the form ever becoming obsolete. It just doesn’t make sense to me to even the consider the possibility that it could become obsolete.

That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be further marginalized, and that’s something I am legitimately worried about. That’s part of why I spend so much time pimping the works of David Foster Wallace (who has some really important, brilliant things to say about us and who we are right now while also being hysterically funny, deeply moving, and incredibly addictive) and Michael Chabon (who is also wildly entertaining, and crafts literature using the raw mythos and language of the pulp genre entertainment that is so central to American culture and American collective consciousness).

4 Responses

  1. You know what’d be convenient? If I could read a DFW footnote in one place and not strewn across the bottom of three pages.

    I agree with the sentiment that nothing is better at being a novel than a novel, but if employed correctly, some enhancements (I like when you called them doodads) can improve the reading experience.

    Cody’s post referenced two authors by name- Dan Brown and Jeff Jarvis. Would The Da Vinci Code not have been a novel if it included an interactive word game (the book had one, but you played in your head)? Is Jarvis’s What Would Google Do not a book if it actually links out when he says ‘link to the rest’?

    These examples are clearly not the height of literature, in fact, they’re the opposite. But I think there’s room to employ enhancements when they work and to ignore them when they don’t. I suspect you, Cody, Jeff Jarvis and George Orwell would agree.

    • I mean, that’s a matter of personal preference. Personally, I’d still rather read a book, even if that means needing one bookmark for the main text and another one to deal with the footnotes. If you’d rather read DFW or Dan Brown or whomever on an iPad, that’s fine with me.

  2. Cody’s post mentioned two authors: Jeff Jarvis and Dan Brown. Now, while I could make a joke about his personal library experience, I’ll just say that his idea for a new “book” works for Jarvis but would fail for Brown.

    The majesty of great literature is its ability to keep you in the dark and prey on your ignorance. Read anything by Franzen and you’ll start to realize how miniscule your own knowledge of the world and this particular view of it is. Brown’s books, if we can call them books (I prefer to think of them as refined Sunday funnies), would gain nothing from letting you venture into the internet as you read, which is what I think Cody is suggesting. Images, user involvement, and expanded views of the storyline are not important to the book’s success.

    Now, Jarvis’ text would certainly benefit from an evolution. Often times, texts like these are out of date before they hit the Strand, so to have it constantly updated, tweaked, and molded into an immersive experience more than a lecture-ous one would benefit all involved.

    But to argue that anything fictional would benefit from immersion is to ignore the example video games vs. movies have given us over the last twenty years. Immersion may improve an experience, but it cant entirely change what we want from that experience. As much as those of us of the social media market would like to believe, all experiences are not on their way to one experience. The variety, like Brown’s use of a lot of adjectives in one sentence when just one would do, is what humans want.

  3. Yawn. Luke.

    I’ve never read Dan Brown. I chose him because he is just a mainstream symbol.

    It is obvious for people like Jeff Jarvis or Tim O’Reilly.

    I’m very interested in seeing what people like Tao Lin and Robin Sloan will do on the fiction side. As I have said repeatedly, I’m not suggesting displacement of books, this is a new medium.

    Instead of whining about how reading is changing, the post was a call to embrace it.

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