By October 29, 2010 2 Comments Read More →

Weeklings: The Novel's Dream of Itself, E-books on Campus, Google's Poetry Translations, Prolific Authors, Prison Books, and Sterling's Gold

There sure are a lot of pieces about the relationship between books and paper, which makes sense. We need a lot of thinking to make sense of this changing media environment. Much as I had a hard time working up the energy to read yet one more take, I was glad I read Tom Chatfield’s “Do writers need paper?” (Prospect). An arresting thought:

As the comic novelist Julian Gough told me: “One of the jobs novels used to do was to create a universe for characters, one that felt believable and complicated. But the complexity of life at the moment is such that no writer is able to keep up. The novel once had a dream of itself as this universal art form that could describe to the world to everybody in a way that everybody could understand, and that no longer rings true.”

Speaking of books and paper, here’s a little news nugget that might surprise some people: 74% of college students still prefer print to pixels (“Print Books Still BMOC,” by Judith Rosen, Publishers Weekly).

“It seems like the death of the printed book, at least on campus, has been greatly exaggerated, and that dedicated e-readers have a way to go before they catch on with this demographic,” says Elizabeth Riddle, manager of OnCampus Research.

And there’s nothing I can add to Sam Leith’s “Translating poetry might be beyond Google – but we’ll have fun watching it try” that isn’t already there in the headline.

Conventional prosody in English is based on an issue that is largely binary: stressed and unstressed syllables. And binary is how Google treats them: “blank verse with iambic foot obeys the regular expression (01) while one with dactylic foot looks like (100)”.

Philip Womack, who has written only two novels, is generous enough to suggest that “Being a Prolific Author Isn’t a Bad Thing” (Telegraph). He cites Alexandre Dumas, Honore de Balzac, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, and Joyce Carol Oates–but, strangely, leaves out J. Robert Randisi, who has out-written them all.

An immediate moment of creation can result in a work every bit as pure and well crafted as one that has been mulled over for months. And yet, as a culture, we tend to value rarity and slowness: J D Salinger, for instance, or Harper Lee, two of the most widely read authors in the world, produced, between them, a body of work that would fit in a shoebox. But wouldn’t the world be a better place if there were more Salinger, more Harper Lee?

And what do prisoners like to read? The answers may surprise you (“Memoirs Reveal Prisoners’ Book Preferences,” by Benedicte Page, Guardian)–as may the prison librarian’s take on the transformative power of literature.

Steinberg’s experiences seem to have made him somewhat wary of the notion that books have the power to transform – not least after the occasion when he was mugged in a park by an ex-con who boasted that he’d still got two overdue titles that Steinberg had issued to him.

Finally, I feel as though I should be more cynical about the fact that Sterling’s Gold, the memoir written by Roger Sterling in the TV show Mad Men, is now going to be a real book, published by Grove/Atlantic, but I’m just not cynical at all. Sterling gets all the best one-liners, and who wouldn’t want a few more?



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

2 Comments on "Weeklings: The Novel's Dream of Itself, E-books on Campus, Google's Poetry Translations, Prolific Authors, Prison Books, and Sterling's Gold"

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  1.' Pete says:

    Great. So now even imaginary people (Sterling, plus the title character from the awful “Castle”) have published more books than I have.

  2. Keir Graff says:

    Well at least Sterling apologizes to you in the introduction:

    4. People who can really write. I’m sorry my
    book got published first.

    Probably would mean more if it came from a real person, wouldn’t it?

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