23 May 2009

“Pondering Some Recent Myths About Books”

In the Guardian, Robert McCrum (also author of an excellent biography of P. G. Wodehouse) takes issue with "some recent myths about books." Such as that they're not manufactured well anymore, or that publishing used to have less hype.

Which is all well and good--I agree with all his conclusions, especially his skepticism about any sort of "Golden Age." But McCrum doesn't address the biggest anxieties (and perhaps myths) in publishing today: competition from other storytelling and information media, and new digital formats changing how people take in stories and information.

McCrum's essay equates "literary culture" with printed books. It treats sturdiness of binding and number of pages as useful measurements for assessing literature, but doesn't explore whether those yardsticks may matter in twenty years. And in that case looking back at books one accumulated twenty years ago isn't helpful.

I apply John Siracusa's horse analogy. It would certainly be a myth to say that horses are in poorer shape today than a hundred years ago. Equine veterinary medicine is much better, the average horse better cared for. The species certainly isn't extinct. And yet very few of us rely on horses these days.

(Link thanks to Nathan Bransford.)

1 comment:

Sadako said...

Good point. And I also totally want to read that PG Wodehouse bio now--LOVE his Jeeves/Wooster stories.