Friday, February 17, 2012

Ebooks Get Thumbs-Up From New York Review of Books

Alexis Madrigal,  senior editor at The Atlantic, writes about The New York Review of Books' wonderful essay on the value of ebooks:  

The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children's books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups.

Read Alex's full piece here. Glad to see others on the same page (sorry), ref my own post of the other day Ebooks and Creativity - Why Jonathan Franzen Is Wrong To Hate Ebooks.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Ebooks And Creativity: Why Jonathan Franzen is Wrong To Hate Ebooks - Conf 685

 c. Jacqui Lofthouse

In her latest post 'A Different Definition of Success', the novelist and writing coach Jacqui Lofthouse asks why so many writers eat themselves up with feelings of envy, disappointment, a sense of injustice and fear of being a failure. 
"Why? When we feel this way, it may be frustration - because we haven't finished a book yet. Or because we haven't got an agent yet. Or we haven't got a publisher yet.  Or we haven't sold enough copies to pay the bills. Or it's not a bestseller. Or it's a bestseller but it didn't win a literary prize. Or it won the Booker but has been slammed by the critics.  Or it won the Booker but the sales were the worst ever for a Booker winner. Or we've won the Nobel Prize for Literature but still somehow, life just didn't pan out the way we'd hoped..." 

Insecurity plays a big part. The sheer marathon number of hours it takes to write a novel that may never see the light of day. That may be rubbish anyway so maybe it's just as well. The tenacity that's needed to complete a full-length novel and then go back and edit it to its core, over and over is thus applied to the next stage of its life and we watch developments - and those of other books like ours published at the same time - like a hawk. As Steph Swainston points out in her piece linked to by Jacqui, the one book a year deal doesn't help at all. When your first book does come out, the shadow of having to complete another novel for publication in 12 months' time takes the sheen off a bit. That's how it is so you get on with it. For many writers deadlines are a necessary part of the process. But for just as many others more time would produce a more satisfactory end result. 

Digital publishing has eased the burden and put the control back into the novelist's hands. There have been a few big pieces in the press lately by authors who fear ebooks. Yes, it's a huge shake-up of the established systems, and the currently-successful are going to feel it in reduced royalties for electronic sales. But I'm convinced digital publishing will be good for creativity in the long term. As the Monty Python team have repeatedly pointed out over the years, originality flourishes when commercial interests aren't at the heart of the commission. Publishers had become vehicles for the big PR machinery of TV stars, models - anybody who had already made a name for themselves in another field was allowed to 'write' and publish a novel and have it displayed prominently in the High Street bookstores. I don't blame the publishers for this at all, publishing's a gamble and they needed sales to stay in business. It's just how it was.

Jonathan Franzen isn't keen on ebooks. His take that words have to be anchored to a page is nonsense. It's the ideas that are conveyed by the words, the feelings and new depths of understanding that a good book instills that is permanent. I've never felt the need to own a book, once I've read it, if it's any good its resonance will remain forever, even if so deeply in the subconscious that I don't know it's there. The book will probably get 'lent' and I'll never see it again. When I moved from a house to my partner's flat a few years ago I had to get rid of nearly all of my books and it didn't really bother me (the albums were harder). The books that stayed were my friends' books, the cookery books (which I rarely look at) and the poetry books. 

I feel for the independent bookshops who are having such a hard time at the moment but am convinced that, once all the fuss has settled down, print and ebooks will thrive side by side. Independent bookshops and libraries will be a major part of the new flush of originality, replacing the generic bookstores we have at the moment where every display option comes at a price. I understand the fear but feel the excitement far more. As William Boyd said at an appearance at my local library, velcro didn't replace buttons.  

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.