Guest Post by Tess Taylor: The Next Decade in Book Culture

by Tess Taylor | Dec-28-2009

As we wind down the "aughts" decade, the NBCC seeks the best guest posts about the future of book culture, including essays, interviews and free-range opining. The topic: How do you see book cluture evolving over the next decade? This post is from Tess Taylor.

I found myself writing a letter to a fellow writer friend today, a friend who'd written for the NBCC about facebook marketing and networking for books in the Huff post. It was, I think, a deft handling of a much needed topic.  But as I read on, I found myself feeling discouraged in some way, not by you, but by some bigger pheneomenon-- the whole way in which we facebook about our books at all.

I guess I hate to think that I, like some sort of evangelist, have to go out and get e-followers and moderate e-discussions with them, that I have to fritter what attention span I am able to gather in putting up in twittering or texting or speaking nanospeak in order to make people know some little piece of my life.

I think this relates to a general feeling I have lately, as a book person,  of being baffled by the internet -not email, which is so much like the world of letters, or can be, but actually by the world of facebook, blogs, twitter. This, again, is not twitter's fault, but perhaps my own.  I am not used to thinking of the world of literature as a world of broadcast. Broadside, yes, perhaps, always. There have always been posts, palaver, publicity. But I suppose I always felt the separateness of that from the real writerly life, from what drew us in as book people in the first place. I was always drawn to books (and literary life) because of its modes of intimacy. A book is intimate. A letter is intimate. It's not a post; it's a privacy. It's a correspondence, a one on one back and forth.

Which relates to my hope for book culture, what I'd love to see. I'd love to see us talk about books as sanctuaries for our attention spans, ecosystems where our thoughts can run long distances. I'd like us to find new ways to make parks and wildernesses for our minds. I'd like to see us talk about why reading at length matters and helps and restores and reveals us to ourselves. This, I say, thinking that this may not be where book culture goes. It may trend electronically, shorter, more interactive, more amorphous. We, in this ever apocalyptic culture ( sometimes unaware of our own literature, the ways we retell our own deep cultural stories about the ends of things) talk about the ends of things: "history"; "race"; "the book." Yes and no, of course. Things seem catastrophic partly because we keep telling ourselves the stories of catastrophe.  The questions we need to ask are how we talk about why the book needs to continue, how we make a market and and a world that values art, attention, the life of the mind.  Let's brainstorm. We have big work ahead of us.





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