Literary culture is NOT under siege

by Bryan

Few things things make me angrier than book-lovers arguing that literary culture is under siege, as Richard Russo does in today’s New York Times. It’s simply not true. People read now more than ever before—they just read fewer paper books. I’m sure these people have no problem listening to MP3s while music fans lament the pseudo-loss of vinyl. Well guess what? Vinyl is still around, because people love it. Books will always be around for the people who want them.

The argument against a Kindle et. al isn’t that it diminishes the reading experience or destroys local bookstores—I’m a book fiend but I can’t stand the pretension of most mom-and-pops. I find it icky. Like it or not, reading is a solitary experience. The argument against Kindles is that you can forget to zip up your backpack and it can slide out and break, as mine recently did, and the half-price you paid for the books suddenly isn’t half-price anymore. I don’t exclusively buy books on the Kindle, just ones I’m reading informationally instead of experientially. (If that makes any sense). I’ll buy a novel, but I’ll also buy a magazine, and a lot of non-fiction is just long magazine pieces.

It’s ironic that writers can get all stuffy about books and also remain beholden to the ideals associated with city living, where space is at a premium. If a book is not good enough to demand it is read in paper form, what obligation do we have to clutter our lives with it? Paper books are bad for the environment, like it or not. Not as bad as vinyl, but not good, either.

We expect novelists to see through their own biases to help the rest of us do the same. By signalling the death of literary culture, they’re failing.