India Uncut

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

On books and reading

In a profile that David Remnick once did of Philip Roth (I can't find it online, sorry) in the New Yorker, Roth said:
[The evidence] is everywhere that the literary era has come to an end. The evidence is the culture, the evidence is the society, the evidence is the screen, the progression from the movie screen to the television screen to the computer. There's only so much time, so much room, and there are only so many habits of mind that can determine how people use the free time they have. Literature takes a habit of mind that has disappeared. It requires silence, some form of isolation, and sustained concentration in the presence of an enigmatic thing.
Indeed, in the last few years it has become fashionable to speak about the death of the novel. Well, here's what Don DeLillo once wrote to Jonathan Franzen in a letter:
The novel is whatever novelists are doing at a given time. If we're not doing the big social novel fifteen years from now, it'll probably mean our sensibilities have changed in ways that make such work less compelling to us--we won't stop because the market dried up. The writer leads, he doesn't follow.
Some other quotes by DeLillo on writing are collected here, though I first read this in David Remnick's New Yorker profile of DeLillo. I couldn't find that online either, but Remnick's profiles of Roth and DeLillo, along with a host of other great pieces by him, are collected in Reporting. Wonderful book. (All these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and The Complete New Yorker is a fabulous buy.)

And what do I think of this? I'm afraid I don't have enough data to be able to judge whether people read more or less these days, and I won't extrapolate from personal experience. But it's clear that in our digital age, we're spoilt for choice for ways to spend our free time. Literature has competition, and that's a good thing. It will only affect bad books adversely, if at all. Good books will always find their readers. They will hunt them out, chase them down, sit on them and chant, "Read me, read me, read me." Only the compelling survive.
amit varma, 10:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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