Dave Edelman says the novel will die

Paul Raven @ 19-03-2008

old-book-spines I’m out of town and away from the interwebs today (at a conference about Web2.0 in libraries, ironically enough), so I’ve left you these articles to chew over using the magic of scheduled posting. [image by Tom Maisey]

First off, David Louis Edelman repeats the oft-heard assertion that the novel will die, but he doesn’t see it as a downer:

“Very soon we’re going to have a medium for distributing the written word that’s not only easier but better suited to the task than books. So let’s dispense with the silly, sentimental arguments you often hear about why storytelling is never going to go electronic. “You can’t replace the feeling of a holding a book,” “I don’t like reading on a screen,” and “I can’t read an e-book in the bathtub” are some of the sillier excuses you hear all the time for why printed books are going to survive until the end of time.

I’m sorry, but “I can hold my entire library in my hand,” “I can download new books at will,” “I can search my entire library in a nanosecond,” “I can instantly send books to my friends,” “I can translate and define words on the fly,” and “I don’t have to devote an entire room of my house to holding my books” are going to trump reading in the bathtub any day of the week.”

Well worth a read. Now compare and correlate with Jason Stoddard’s recent posts on the future of creative writing … start with this one about creating fully featured alternate realities:

“What do you think this is? This is 100% writing – and this is some of the most powerful writing you can do. Instead of blogging about your dogs and your vacation schedule or how the world is going to hell to create a post every day, turn some of that energy towards this!”

And then move forwards chronologically through the next four posts or so.

And then … discuss, be you writer or reader!

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7 Responses to “Dave Edelman says the novel will die”

  1. Jason Stoddard says:

    Dave is right.

    And the de facto standard reader will NOT be a dedicated ebook reader. It will be an iPhone or its competitors.

  2. Spritegeezer says:

    As I sit here surrounded by stacks of books, in a house devoted, in good
    measure to the storage of books I wholeheartedly agree with Dave’s assessment.
    Trying to predict what form the alternative will take is a waste of time.
    The key will be developing a reasonable system of finding what you want/need
    in any collection. I can see the need for a specialized series of databases.

  3. PJ says:

    What do you mean you can’t read an ebook in the bathtub? I know many people that use their ebook readers (cellphone, Nokia N800, whatever) in the bathtub without a problem. Also, you forgot to mention: books aren’t backlit, so they require an external illumination source, unlike a decent LCD screen.

    The main problems with ebooks right now are 1) availability and 2) format standardization.

  4. Peter Tupper says:

    Do you mean the novel as a story form or as a form factor? Both seem to be doing pretty well, if walking through Chapters is any indication.

    I’m wondering what killed the short story. Where did the market for short fiction go? Everybody wants to read 1000-page novels in six-volume series. All that’s left of the short fiction readership are science fiction digests with minuscule circulations, and unreadable laboratory pieces in literary magazines.

    I hope that, if and when Iphone-like devices are as common as music players are now, it could lead to a resurgence of short fiction, maybe in styles and formats we’ve yet to imagine.

  5. soubriquet says:

    As a reader and booklover, all I can say is “I hope not!”.
    just before I came and read this, I was browsing through a book which was printed in 1732, -in it I found a closely spaced, handwritten page of argument with some of the printed text. I don’t know who wrote those notes, arguing with Lord Salisbury, in the year in which George Washington was born, in which a royal charter founded the colony of Georgia… but I strongly doubt that your thoughts, written in the margins of your iphone screen will be read two hundred and seventy six years from now.
    Of course, that’s an extreme analogy, buy i find I can read, mentallt scan, riffle back through pages, far faster and with less eye-strain in real books than virtual ones. Yes, a google search facility might be handy, as a way to train my brain not to bother with real comprehension or memory.
    e-books probably appeal more to people who don’t really read.. maybe you could have the text pre-digested, um, pictures… oh Moving pictures with sound?
    Welcome to the disneyification of literature.

    By the way, I don’t cling to vinyl for my music, it’s on the hard drive, but I’ve never hankered after an ipod.
    The place for an elecrtonic reading device may well come, I can see it as handy for travel, allowing me to select from a library without lugging weight, but I’ll expect its page change/refresh to be intantaneous when I get to the bottom line.
    I like real books.

  6. soubriquet says:

    Oops! sorry for the typos… I hate writing in tiny boxes too, where’s my quill pen?

  7. Eek says:

    I agree with soubriquet. Electronic books are just a disposable convenience. Easily obtained, easily dismissed. I have a zillion mp3s on my hard drive, yet nothing makes a dent on my psyche. Why not? I listen to them all the time, yet none of them seem important. Because they were easily obtained and not cared for at all.

    Out of sight, out of mind. A book is made for one purpose only. A book on a hard drive or an e-book reader or whatever…that electronic utility has multiple purposes. How long before we’re watching video through our ebook readers? How can you enjoy a novel when you’re being messaged on MSN, or think about uploading a photo on facebook?

    I like looking at the books on my shelf. They’re significant, I think. Infinitely moreso than just looking at a bunch of burned DVDs with millions of libraries on them, stamped with a labelmaker.

    As someone that makes graphic novels, I know that there’s artistry and technique to novels that cannot easily be translated to the computer, regardless of what people think. And one of those things is permanence. Data is highly volatile when it’s in the mind of a computer; paper, not so bad. It’s not permanent, but it’s the next best thing.