Too many books, too little time

Monday, June 6th, 2005

Both Susan Gibb and Daniel Green are remarking on the state of the book publishing industry. Daniel Green writes

I don’t say that too many people want to be writers or that readers should have to make do with whatever books a selected number of book publishers wants to give them. I only say that if you’re relying on the “book business” to make your career as a writer you’ll be sorely disappointed. (For additional evidence of how the oversupply of books makes it difficult for lesser-known books to even get stocked on bookstore shelves, see this post by Maud Newton.) The “book business” described in M.J. Rose’s post is not your friend. As long as you continue seeking entrance to the “book business,” as opposed to simply doing good work and perhaps looking for alternate modes of publication, you’ll be contributing to the mess the publishers have made of literary production and ensuring that not so many years from now there won’t even be a book business to kick around anymore.(links in original)

Susan writes,

So to just about everyone except some celebrity with a sizzling sex life, the old advice stands firmly: Don’t give up your day job.

It’s an important conversation to have–as book publishing is one thread in the narrative of readers, writers, and the culture of reading. The sense of this “overloaded” or stuffed market has been germinating for a while. I’ve had the experience, and this was years ago, of walking into the book store and staring at the stacks of novels for sale and the whole daunting hump looked like a mound of hay. The fact of the matter is I haven’t read a lot of new books in a while, yet I keep coming back to the stories and poems in the lit mags, and really only read what I’m interested in reading, hypertext fiction, comics, and the old standbys. I have to say that I no longer have the patience to “look” for interesting novels unless someone points one out to me and I’ll read it, well, at least some of it, as Neha will remind me. (Then I’ll keep the book in my office and keep forgetting to give it back.) I must say though that it’s a great era for blurb writers, who all claim that the novels they’re commenting on are “tours de force.” Nevertheless, a good novel is always something to be shared.

I agree that the saturation of the market diminishes all of the work and opens the novel and the act of writing the novel to a strange obscurity. But reading persists and the work persists and, importantly, the alternatives to Knopf and Norton persist. The novel in whatever form, I would argue, needs to be written even more so these days despite the market. I recall a saying from Carlos Fuentes in his novel The Campaign that went something like: people need god more than they need the church. The same may be said of the mainstream industry of books. Anyway, the above links are worth further reading.


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