Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The future of books

Hi all,

A number of articles I have read lately have questioned the novel's future. One article in the Age concerned a report from the National Endowment for the Arts in the US. It said 19% of 17 year-olds and half 18-24 year-olds never read for pleasure. The article did not have figures from previous years for comparison. I know I read very little from about age 16 to 30. During my last two years of high school I suffered the usual dislike of books because of the way we had to analyse them and come to the same conclusions as the teacher and examiners (They have not heard that the Author is dead and it's up to each individual reader how he or she interprets a novel, a scene, an action, a smile.) At Uni I read LOR and the six book "Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" for pleasure and that was about it. And then work came along, along with the hassle of finding my place in the world. I actually think it is normal for people in these age groups not to read for pleasure, with many becoming hooked on books again after they become bored with alcohol and drugs and have settled down (not that I've settled down).

In an article in the July 1999 edition of Asimov, Norman Spinrad says that the percentage of people reading speculative fiction is decreasing. He puts this down to the fact that the overall percentage of people reading for pleasure is decreasing. He says, like many other commentators, that people have too many other forms of entertainment these days. He makes an interesting point that people can get their action and thrills from TV and computer games and therefore feels that the only novels that have a future are those with elements that can't successfully be shown on film or played in a game. He thinks that novels that rely heavily on the innermost thoughts of their characters will survive, whereas simple action, thriller and detective novels will die as their readers turn to games and film. Interestingly, I read a review of "The Golden Compass" that said the film pales against the award winning book it is based on, "Northern Lights" by Philip Pullman, because it can't show what is going on inside the main character's head. I have read "Northern Lights", but not seen the film yet, and it spends a fair bit of time inside Lyra's head. I also know that many of my favourite novels, like "1984", "The Scar" by China Melville, "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman and the above mentioned "Chronicles of Thomas Covenant", spend a great deal of time inside the main character's head - this is probably one reason that the Chronicles have not been made into a film.

I try to write fiction that gets inside the heads of my characters.

Further to the future of the book, Picador in Britain have announced that only literature novels that have a guarantee of making a profit will be released in hardback. I think a few of their authors might be annoyed with them. Having said that, I rarely buy hardbacks, the few I own were Christmas presents or purchased secondhand.

Finally, to my surprise the recently released collection "Best Australian Short Stories 2007" edited by Robert Drewe has at least two speculative fiction short stories in it. One by Sean Williams and the other by Paddy O'Reilly. Here I was thinking that many in the literature world thought that speculative fiction was a load of pulp. Perhaps the award winning "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy has helped persuade a few people that speculative fiction can be, and is often, tremendous writing.


No comments: