Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The State of Publishing

From The Mumpsimus, an excellent commentary on the state of publishing and awards via an article on the National Book Awards nominees in the New York Times.

The NYT article argues that, since the fiction nominees, in particular, are virtual unknowns by most of the popular readership, the Award will not serve the publishing world and is virtually useless.

As a writer and a reader, I have often bemoaned the lack of new, interesting voices. Instead, we are inundated with books from the same old-same old authors, reprints of past sure sellers, and vapid, sensationalistic, middle-of-the-road "new" fiction.

Of course, publishing is a business, and the big guys want the money. It seems that investing in new writers is not a thing to do, anymore, even though the sure sellers are getting older --and staler, and are not being replaced.

Maybe it's because the business people who want to sell books know nothing about good writing, and couldn't care less. And maybe it's because readers accept the mediocre, instead of demanding better. (Quality writing, by the way, does not mean inscrutable or difficult. To me, it means words, setting, characters that stay with you long before you've finished the book.) And perhaps it's the current tendency of linking "good" with "movieable": the assumption that if a book is good, it should immediately be transformed into a movie. We've seen those disasters when excellent books have been put onto the big screen: The English Patient, The Shipping News, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Chocolat, The Pilot's Wife, or even the Harry Potter books. It seems that it's now impossible for readers to use their imagination, to see their own pictures in their mind. They need to have them imposed upon them, so they don't have to get their brains working.

With the state of publishing today, Hollywood's exploiting of certain author's popularity, and the general reader's lack of demand for new and interesting material, the result is a loss of bright, interesting, challenging new voices. I salute the judges of the National Book Award who have decided to choose quality over popularity or name recognition.

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