Sunday, June 7, 2009

Book Expo Blahs and the Insect Trust

Book Expo ended a few days ago, and was a scaled down event compared to the past, reflecting the current economic climate.Many small publishers didn't take booths;only some of these were seen at tables in the section of their respective distributors. More troubling, or promising, depending on your point of view, was the absence of galleys from the large publishers.In at least one case,print galleys are being replaced by electronic ones. All that,coupled with the publication in the NYT of a major article by Charles McGrath on the Kindle,left an air of premonition on the future of the book industry.
And yet the vitality and energy of those who love books suffused through the crowd, bent over as usual by bags filled with signed books and in some cases galleys , going about their business, pushing though the aisles.

What was more distrubing to me were the conversations with some of those sales reps manning the booths, including those of university presses, about the reading habits of their children. I heard more than one reference to the"two-minute attention span".
Ultimately, the Kindle is here to stay , and though it cannot replace the tactility of a tangible book, and it's not fun reading in bed, it will at least share the stage with print publications in the (I'm afraid) very near future. That means smaller print runs for the publishers;maybe someday the concept of a physical library will disappear, but that is further off in the future.
When, however, you combine the death of newspapers with the poor reading habits of some of the people, that is a double whammy for the culture and the polity. Perhaps by then we will all be cyberflesh, and it won't matter-

"Just picture it" said a visionary friend of mine at BookExpo just salivating to go to Burning Man later this summer--" A giant insect trust stands over all the publishing conglomerates, pushing the wares of virtual publishing". Yes, he can see "the thoracic secretions now sealing the pages of future writings in favor of electronic transmissions- for after all, in an oxygen starved silicone state dystopia, insects and computers will outlive us all.."
Well, it's far fetched but WS Burroughs might have least as a metaphor
for the hive behavior now taking place.

Still, there were some lovely books we picked up or noted in catalogues, including a terrific new title from the University of Minnesota entitled Otaku, Japan's Database Animals. It s about the culture of those who produce and consume manga(comics), anime(graphic films) and other products ,including fan merchandise, related to these forms of popular visual culture. It's really about the end of traditional narrative and its replacement by a fragmented database reality for these people, if not the society at large. Finally available here after translation from the Japanese, this is an exceptionally interesting work by Hiroki Azuma. Highly recommended for anyone seeking to understand the speed of change in culture.