Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eminem will someday be on the oldies station posted a link on its home page to yesterday's post on actionbobmarkle on The Sheltering Sky, which I thought was kind of funny because the post basically consisted of me copying about a page and a half from the novel. I wrote a little introductory paragraph talking how the passage nailed what it's like to be a traveler and how that is the pivotal moment in the book that gives it its title.

And that was it. Funny, that an editor over there thought that was worth sharing.

Or maybe not. I'm just guessing, or maybe hoping, that the editor decided that what I wrote about that particular passage is worth something. An appreciation for the art of the novel is waning, just as the art of making an album is waning because digital downloads now let us concentrate on acquiring just one or two songs, and not an entire album. But there is that one point in a novel--a good novel, at least--where the author pulls together for sometimes only a paragraph or two all the loose ends and clarifies why the novel is called what it is, and maybe even why he wrote it. And it takes a certain kind of mind to appreciate that. Appreciating that is like enjoying going into a museum just to see one painting, which I love to do. (If I'm in the area, I'll go into the Boston MFA just to sit in the Buddha room for awhile, or I would sit and gaze on Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? at least I used to until they put it in storage.)

Once, I absolutely floored Allison when she was maybe nine or 10 years old when I told her that Eminem would someday be on the oldies station. True. Someday, everything ends up on the oldies station. And I guess that's where we are with novels right now. With all the "new media" out there, readers are going by the wayside. I remember showing my blog to a very hip young woman at the ad agency I used to work at, and her first, very fast initial response was a reaction against all the words. Who's gonna read all that, she wondered.

Say this in your best old fart voice: These young kids today don't appreciate a good book. Or geography or history or painting or anything else, including that meanderings of the mind of a blogger.

Well, not true. It's all changed and morphed. The responsibility, I think, lies with the younger generation to not leave behind the art of the novel. Or of painting or the theater or any of the other cultural traditions. Move forward, but preserve the traditional forms, too. Time and society move forward, and by moving forward I simply mean in time, I don't mean to infer necessarily that things are getting better, they're just changing. Let future generations be the judges of the quality.

But as society moves through time, there's more culture to embrace and understand. Understandably, how can a novel that needs so much time and energy to read and comprehend compete with a movie or a video game or Facebook or the latest shenanigans of pop stars. But there is something inherently wrong with leaving it by the wayside. There is a beauty and a connection to today's world that shouldn't be lost because, and here's a huge cliche but it's true: You'll never know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.

1 comment:

blog nerd said...

I feel your wistfulness for the long, meandering meditation of reading a well-crafted, long work of fiction, in a book with a beautiful cover and nice pages, felt between the fingers as they are turned. I covet that experience. Long for it even.


Is it funny to think of this in context when you realize that the novel only appeared in the 18th century and it was, for at least a century after than, considered a dangerous and frivolous practice to read them, mainly because it softened the mind and loosened the morals of women?

That the novel was discussed as a danger to the young, and considered garbage, much in the tone that many use for the Internet and Facebook, video games and everything else so new around us?

And by the way--what is a multi-user video games (so different than PONG!) but long drawn out narrative experiences in which you participate and collaborate with the fiction evolving all around you?

The novel is moving to Kindle--publishing is moving to a more democratized process of smaller and smaller presses. The world of e-publishing is providing almost infinite variety.

And a 2008 survey shows this:
Amongst children, frequent users of the internet are 3x more likely to read a book a day or more for enjoyment.

Yes. I'm here to blow sunshine and bunnies up your ass. But I do think the novel will get BETTER as a result. And innovation in structure is about to dawn.

But you are not alone in worrying about the minds and artistic tastes of today's youth. Aristotle worried about the same thing in his day. ;)

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