Novels

The Demise of the E-book Market


Now that all of the book stores are gone, you mean to tell me no one wants e-books anymore?
Tim Waterstone, the founder of the Waterstone's book shop chain, has predicted that the "e-book revolution" will soon go into decline in the UK.
He told the Oxford Literary Festival printed books would remain popular for decades, the Daily Telegraph reported.
"E-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have," he said.
"But every indication - certainly from America - shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK."
For the first eight months of 2013, e-book sale were worth $800m in the US, down 5% on the same period the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers.
The experience of reading a book on a device, no matter how expensive it is, still doesn't rival the actual experience of reading a printed book. The e-reader might be a permanent tool used by people who have to maintain and regularly use a lot of printed material, but the occasional reader still prefers a book. It's too bad we couldn't have saved more bookstores, however.

There may come a day when the only place to buy a book is online--from Amazon. Or in an airport. Maybe, someone will come up with a good hybrid for books and music and start a business model that will work as a retail outlet.

Bringing Stefan Zweig Back Into Print


Stefan Zweig is a writer everyone should know:
Stefan Zweig was once ‘the world’s most translated author’ – then he faded into obscurity in the English-speaking world. But a revival in interest is under way, reports Matthew Anderson.
A few years ago the director Wes Anderson was browsing the shelves of a bookshop in his adopted home of Paris when he made a chance discovery. He took down a copy of Beware of Pity, a 1939 novel by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, recently re-released in English after years out of print. “I think I read the first page in the store and thought, ‘OK, this is a new favourite writer of mine,’” Anderson told Variety.
Anderson has used Zweig's work to make The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film that it's going to be impossible not to see. I don't know exactly how you would view Zweig today--and how are we going to view Anderson as well? Zweig, in his lifetime, enjoyed a popularity that has eluded Anderson. 

Zweig's impact across European culture has to be gauged in that arena. It would be too easy to categorize him as a popular author with little substance--that would be unfair. It would be unfair to try and rate him against authors that were in pursuit of other ideals and who eschewed commercial success. Zweig clearly went after popularity and wanted to be widely read--in other words, accessible in a medium that elevates the inaccessible to ridiculous heights. But there's no question that he had an impact on the culture:
“He was one of the first star authors, and even in an age with no TV and very few pictures in the newspapers, people recognised him wherever he went,” says Zweig’s biographer Oliver Matuschek, who has spent 20 years researching the writer’s life and works. “The sheer volume is unbelievable,” says Matuschek. “In the collected works in German there are 36 volumes, and that doesn’t include the 500 pieces of journalism that were published in newspapers and magazines in his lifetime.”
That may explain it--the fact that he wrote in his native German and not English. Translations of his work were commonplace enough, but without the advantage of being a native speaker of English, Zweig may have been forgotten almost entirely because we tend to place more value on English language writers. I would call that a bias.

How Many People Stop Reading Entirely?


This is an interesting development for people who think there is still a market for the printed word.

In my opinion, the rise in the number of people who don't read books does not mean that people are not reading. I think it is more a case where what they read has evolved to the point where the book is an irrelevant item in the lives of many.

Have you ever walked into someone's house and noticed whether or not they have books? An absence of books means one of two things--either they don't read them or they have a robust E-reader or tablet and have no further use for books. I can sympathize with that--I have books that are in Rubbermaid containers precisely because there isn't room for them. Should I chuck them out or should I save them?

The E-reader market has tanked in some ways because of the flood of mediocre material (people trying to cash in) and because the devices are unstable. When you think back about all of the people who are holding Nooks and Sony E-Readers (hey, that's me!), there's almost no solution that looks like an upside. How do you carry around a library full of books on a device that is rendered obsolete in mere months? How many people are going to create a fully digitized library that has to be stored in the cloud or ported around or copied and re-copied? People are more likely to do that with the music they care about. Books, like old albums or songs that are tiresome, fall away.

And, yes, I thought of this as well. Literacy isn't an issue:

The percentage of people who are not educated but can read? Is that increasing? I have no idea. I suspect that it is.

Complex, inaccessible, and pretentious literary offerings don't actually kill off readership--they simply turn people away from writers but not the medium itself. Stephen King is widely read because he delivers; being able to deliver isn't the same as being good or bad, but there's no way King could be considered a bad writer.

I don't know if people stop reading so much as they stop trying to engage written forms of entertainment. The human need remains. What fills those needs has evolved and changed with the technology.

Martin Amis Forgets


Martin Amis had this to say about literature, and his new book:
And the book is a kind of satire of contemporary England—a member of its underclass wins the lottery and enters its tabloid class. 
Satire is—I wonder how helpful it is as a category. It was once defined in apposition to irony, in that the satirist isn’t just looking at things ironically but militantly—he wants to change them, and intends to have an effect on the world. I think that category just doesn’t exist in literature. No novel has ever changed anything, as far as I can see.
This is a fairly ridiculous thing to say (Sinclair Lewis anyone?) because books have had enormous impact since their creation. Novels have changed a great many things. One of the most influential novels in human history is, of course, Uncle Tom's Cabin. You would think that an Englishman would grasp this, since Harriet Beecher Stowe was treated as if she were royalty in England after the publication of the novel.

I think it would be fair to say that Martin Amis is not going to be known for his ability to give great answers to interviewers. This is not a knock against him at all.