Larry McMurtry:The Book Is Dead

Over at the Houston Chronicle they had this short interview with Larry McMurtry that focuses on books and culture. His 29th novel is to hit bookshelves later this year and he’s beginning work on the second book of his biography (the first, Books, was published in 2007 and the third, Hollywood, has yet to be written). He also owns a used and rare bookstore in his home town of Archer City called Booked-Up.

Within the interview McMurtry uses his upcoming speaking engagement at Rice to touch upon the fact that he sees few young people come into his store. Nearly everyone is “over 40” and this has caused him to worry that the our “Book Culture” is in its final stages. Despite an early love with stories, he mentions how kids hit an entertainment blitzkrieg when they get around eleven or twelve years of age. A world of MP3 players, video players, movies, cell phones, the internet, satallite radio, and television come together as a horde of mice attacking the child’s time and attention with each taking away its fair morsel.

Which might be true.

But I also think that it might be overstating it a bit. I don’t see a lot of young people at the used bookstores I frequent, either. But I don’t think this is because there is a severe lack of young people reading, only that there is a severe lack of young people willing to go to a store that isn’t in a shopping mall.

For when I go into Borders, I see plenty of young people. Being a bit of a crotchety old man, I’m often annoyed by the sheer volume of young people taking up space in the book aisles. Though, to be fair, I’m fairly annoyed by anyone in the book aisles taking up space. But the point is that they are there. Granted, there is a larger number of them filtering over to the graphic novel and manga sections, both of which were recently expanded at my local Borders, but I think we are past the point of denigrating the graphic novel as a lesser form of reading.

Also, I think the written word may have a larger place within our society now than nearly ever before. While this may no longer be a golden age of letters, the young are not bashful about picking up their keyboard and putting their thoughts to the page. With the imprint that blogging, instant messaging, chat rooms and message boards leave on the virtual and real worlds, I would wager that there is a greater segment of our society today putting the written word to daily use than ever before.

Whether there is quality riding along with this quantity is debateable but I think that is more of a question of the technology and the forum having existed outside of the social norm until very recently. Instead of embracing these forms of communication and expression, bringing them into the mainstream and incorporating their strengths into legitimizing their forms, we have allowed them to remain on the outside where their influence is still felt but not controlled in any real way. Bloggers are still looked upon with suspicion while the other forms are looked upon as amateurish time wasters.

But kids are reading these things and kids are writing these things. These are places that are engaging, demanding and are beginning to carry formidable weight. So while the internet might take customers away from the bookstore, it isn’t taking people away from the written word. Despite the thunderhead of etnertainment distractions that descend upon the young, they still find time to write and read something they are interested in and which they find accessible.

What I think this really shows is that the literary world needs to change with the world around it. I’ve talked about a couple of e-books in past blogs and the majority of us know of Project Gutenberg but it needs to go further. Literature needs to be created solely for the internet browsing crowd, incorporating HTML, flash, etc. to create the dynamic reading experience that people have come to expect.

This isn’t to say that the conventional printed word is dead or that it doesn’t have a place in society. I can’t realistically see any point within my life time where I will quit wandering into a conventional bookstore and buying a conventional book. This only to say that the world of literature has a new frontier into which to expand. Having these alternate forms emerge is an opportunity to expand the influence of the written word and to stave off the demise McMurtry prophesies.

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One Response to “Larry McMurtry:The Book Is Dead”

  1. flighttoinsanity Says:

    i agree with you that the era of the book isn’t over. there is a definate shift in media. from traditional to digital. this is happening to newspapers, music, tv. everyone is scrambling trying to figure out how to stay on top of the ball. how to provide new ways of providing services and more importantly how to monotize those services. it’s a time that’s exciting and scary as the rules are being rewritten. i listen to alot of books on audio that i get from the library. when i do buy books i find them on amazon used, or on clearance or at a second hand shop. the more i read the more i want to build my physical library throughout my life. when it is time for bed and i tuck the kids in. it is a real book that i want to read to them. i want to see it on the shelf. I’ve even started writing a chronicle of a recent major life event with my wife. one day i hope to see it in print, even if it is just a self publish run. that’s one of the real beauties of today. power to the people and all that. anyone can create and distribute content for free. and we have access to more content than ever before. ok, enough rambling. time to go dig through the fridge again and find some food.
    .good night
    steven

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