I was walking through the fiction section earlier this week and I noticed something that made me think about the state of the novel versus the world in which we currently live. A curious consumer was sitting in a leather chair across from the shelf of fiction titles. A book in one hand and one of those new Kindles in the other, this person was participating in the All-American art of consumerism—bargain shopping. Connected to the internet via the Kindle’s Wi-Fi, the customer was logically considering whether-or-not to buy the actual novel that was in her left hand or save a few bucks and download the book over the internet. Strange times, strange times… and while half of me wants to stand-up with my fist raised and vow to never sink into the abysm of corporate dominance, I also understand the world in which we all live. What the Kindler was doing, with our contemporary world in mind, was practical, economically smart, inevitable.
In the contemporary world Time is a commodity unlike ever before. Compared to previous decades and generations, everything in our world is faster—cars advertise horsepower and speed, big companies advocate haste, ease-of-use over quality—all of these, it seems, are consequential to the fact that pragmatic America has only so much Time on its hands. With a bombardment of technological advances, long work hours, domestic activities, and that oh so beloved impossible television, it is no surprise that the average middle-class American would rather devote thirty minutes to watch an easy television program than attempt to break into the depths of a 300 page novel. And that’s just middle-class America. Middle-class America, with these past several years in particular, has suffered from an economic recession, an increase in unemployment, and job security that is about as stable as a porcelain vase. So what about the others? What about the ones who worry about rent and bills and groceries each month? Books are not cheap anymore. Twenty-something bucks for the latest Franzen novel; or twenty-bucks for a gallon of milk, eggs, butter, and bread…
This brings me back to the Kindler. Probably just an average person looking for an easy read, something to relax with and fall asleep to after the long day is over, but also not wanting to spend too much money on something that they don’t know if they’ll ever even finish reading.
I remember being in San Francisco two summers ago and sitting on the corner of Columbus and California Boulevard outside of the famous City Lights Bookstore while listening to an indie band playing for a few extra bucks and recognition. A black Audi convertible pulled up to the red light at the intersection. “Who really gives a f***, anyway…they’re just books!” Right outside one of the most important 20th Century American literary spots in the world, a member of my generation, a young-man maybe a year-or-two older than me, mocked one of the most important things in my life. But I did not hate him for it. I actually completely understood what he meant. He spoke for an entire generation of people. Confusion, ignorance, apathy, whatever the driving emotion was, the young-man vocalized an entire generation’s distrust of creativity when so much of our lives is determined by facts, industry, money.
So how do we as readers, as creative minds alike, as individuals who truly care about how books endure, how do we combat this ideological suffocation? Do we just continue to immerse ourselves in stories and try to forget about it all? Do we try to reinvent to the younger generation the notion that books and writing is not, as I have heard too many times, “gay” or “stupid” or “pointless?” It’s a question for the ages. I wish I had the answer. These are just my thoughts. But maybe these thoughts are the answer. No more societal paradigms that influence how we think or what we think about—why should we really care about the latest pop-culture catastrophe or the current “Jersey Shore” gossip? Thoughts should be anarchistic in nature; subjectivity should not be, as Chekov said, “cruel.” I mean, come on y’all, if times are tough and the world kind-of sucks, read a book or write something truthful and hopefully things may become just a tad more rewarding.