Suspend Your Disbelief

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something's gotta work: more publishing linkage



– Lev Grossman looks back as well as forward when considering the future of publishing.

– Motoko Rich examines the industry’s new austerity.

– Julian Gough makes a modest (bailout) proposal.

– Boris Kachka suggests resurrecting Robert Giroux.

– Spotted via Bookslut, Patti Holt makes an argument for ditching hardcovers altogether:

– And should you feel like buying a book today, a panel of reviewers at The Guardian takes a stab at naming the 1,000 novels everyone must read. Bonus: it’s not just a list; there is a paragraph-long description of each. If you feel an important book has been overlooked, The Guardian asks that you email them “with your nomination and an explanation in no more than 150 words at” (Thanks, Celeste, for this link!)

Join the Discussion

  • The best thing about that Guardian list, actually, is that it’s in categories. Not all the books are in the category I’d have expected to find them in, but I still like the idea of being in the mood for Love Stories or War Stories and scrolling down through the list to find a promising-looking book to read….

  • Celeste

    Yes! I love how idiosyncratic those categories are. So in “Family and Self,” you get Little Women next to Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum next to Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye (for starters), and in “State of the Nation” (what a great category!) you find everything from The Plague to Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. Interesting pairings I’d never thought of.

  • Celeste

    Also, Patti Holt lays out a compelling argument for trade paperback originals over hardbacks. None of the arguments that publishers make against them make much sense. Readers wouldn’t take the book seriously? I’d be thrilled if I could actually pick up new books when they came out, instead of waiting a year for them to come out in paperback or (gasp!) borrowing them from the library. And, in terms of quality, a lot of the books coming out in paperback originals are beautifully designed, with durable covers and dust-jacket-like flaps.

  • astameshkin

    I couldn’t agree more with Patti Holt (and you, Celeste) about banishing hardcovers. There’s this assumption that because they’re more durable physically, they’re more “important,” too–but as we move toward a more resource-efficient way of life (and model of publishing), it does seem profoundly wasteful to print–and then remainder–so many hardcover copies. For a paperback-originals culture to happen quickly (rather than slowly, as publishers become slightly more selective about what gets hardcover release), the change would probably necessitate (1) a major publisher taking a big risk to go that way and profiting substantially from it or (2) some sort of behind-the-scenes agreement among a few major, reputable houses. I think paperbacks with durable covers and dust-jacket flaps are absolutely the way to go–and they could sell new for a tad more than your average thrown-together paperback does. Me, I hate reading a heavy, unwieldy hardcover; it doesn’t fit in my purse, it pisses off my fellow subway passengers, it’s uncomfortable to curl up with in bed. Hardcover novels seem built to be displayed, not read–for posterity, not the now of the reading experience.

  • Celeste

    When I saw Lev Grossman’s article–in my paper copy of TIME, incidentally!–I read the first section and thought, yes, of course the novel won’t stay the same, it’s going to change, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And then I read the rest of the article. Forgive me while I rant for a moment.

    Right off, Grossman asserts that “It isn’t the audience” that’s wrong with publishing. Yeah, people are still reading–but read that NEA study carefully and you’ll see that “literary reading by adults” actually means “reading at least *one* novel, short story, poem or play online or in print *in the previous 12 months*” (my emphasis). Put that way, the rise of 3.5% since 2002 isn’t all that thrilling–and the total figure of 50.2% is downright demoralizing.

    Okay–I don’t have a problem with Grossman’s Brave New Publishing World. More people writing and reading? Sign me up. Nor do I have a problem with self-published novels that make good. But I *do* have a problem with Grossman’s apparent disdain for writers who take their craft seriously, spend time on what they do, and (gasp!) feel that they deserve recognition, let alone a meager payment, for the art they create.

    “Old Publishing,” Grossman sniffs, is only for those who want their literature “carefully selected and edited, and presented in a bespoke, art-directed paper package.” New Publishing will be sexy! It will be messy and vibrant! Not like those stuffy old books that no one reads nowadays! Who needs attention to language in the era of Web 2.0? As Grossman points out, “Reading on a screen speeds you up: you don’t linger on the language; you just click through.” Who needs complex emotions, introspection, or literature that makes you stop and think? Instead, “we’ll see less modernist-style difficulty and more romance-novel-style sentiment and high-speed-narrative throughput.” Throughput?

    “None of this is good or bad; it just is,” Grossman concludes. But his tone–barely controlled eagerness–suggests that it’s good, all good. Readers who want thoughtful, carefully composed fiction, or writers who’d like respect for writing it, are apparently living in the Dark Ages.

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