I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Friday, February 08, 2008

What then the book?

I fancy myself a thinker. I fancy myself a writer.

There are certainly deeper thinkers in this world and certainly better writers. But I am what I am, and the world is what it is.

One characteristic of this world is that it is saturated with writing. So, if someone says, "I wrote a book" it is difficult to be impressed. "You and how many other countless billions???"

In a disposable society, the writing and the writer are disposed of. Even writers who make it into the big distribution chain stores, like Barnes & Noble, are disposable: a one hit wonder or the flavor of the day. The worth of the book (and by implication the author) is only as much as the profit to the distribution outlets at any particular moment in time. Books that don't turn a profit are moved out of the way. Books that do turn a profit take their place. The non-selling book is moved to the bargain shelf. What does this mean? It means that the non-selling book is cheap. It's ideas are cheap. It's author is cheap. And anyone who buys it is cheap.

There is so much "originality" that nothing is original.

We live in an era where so many people are famous that no one is famous. Fame is old hat; it is boring. 15 minutes of fame is allotted to everyone, but no one really gets much more. No one, that is, except Tom Cruise and Britney; and they, of course, are insane. But insanity is becoming the one trait that is the most valuable for a celebrity to achieve. Michael Jackson showed us the way.

So, if I fancy myself a writer, why should I write a book?

Affirmation? Not interested.

Fame? Nope.

Money? Boring.

There are only a few reasons I can think of to write a book:
1) To bring more people to my blog to join in the conversations, which I think are quite interesting. But even this is debatable, because too many people commenting can defeat the purpose; a blog can become saturated with comments.
2) A book is still a different media. There is still something unique about holding a physical book in your hands and sitting down with it to read. This is certainly something to consider, but on the other hand, there is a lot that can be done with a blog that cannot be done with a book; specifically, multimedia. I can provide instant links to articles or essays or interesting websites that the reader can instantly access. Also, I can embed youtube videos in my blog, something I particularly enjoy, or I can upload pictures from around the world. My writing, then, can be woven together with links and multimedia in a unique way. It is something new to the 21st century--a historical time for writing.

Blogs are also instant publishing tools. History moves faster now. We live in hyperculture. Commentary can no longer wait. Both for better and for worser, we think and live on the fly. Writing must evolve. We must reflect and write at the speed of life.

Also, blogging provides the opportunity for instant feedback. This allows me to nuance my thoughts with different perspectives, particularly from those who present differing points of view. Or, perhaps I may realize my position or line of thinking lacks any substance, whatsoever. (This last scenario is, of course, completely hypothetical.)

One might think that the old school advocates of "authorial intent" would hail the advent of the blog as an unprecedented opportunity to discern the ever-elusive intentions of the author. Strangely, this has not been the case.

I'm sticking with the blog. It is superior to the book. (And, of course, my writing holds no substantial market value!) Blogging is a better way to communicate, not just to present the writing of an author but to evaluate and judge the self of the author. We no longer read at a distance, with an author that we do not know who exists in our mind as an image of perfection (or imperfection, as the case may be). We can now see the blemishes of the writer; or at the very least we can see their virtual blemishes.

In short, I feel that the book is an item of nostalgia [this thought, like any other thought, is not original, because there is nothing new under the sun; nothing, that is, except blogging]


Melody said...

Well, I've always felt that nonfiction books (I assume you would write nonfiction) are fairly useless.

The author never has enough to say to fill more than half a book. After that the author goes back to the start and makes the same points over again and then restates his conclusion!

They'd save a lot of trees and boredom if they'd stop in the middle.

jps said...

"worser" ????!!!! And from an editor no less!

Repeat after me:
Bad, worse, worst. I will not use double comparatives.


ktismatics said...

So are you ready to quit the publishing business already Erdman? Or are you making a move to change your company into a professional blog purveyor of some sort that hasn't yet made itself clear? And I guess I should assume that you're not going to read my novel after all.

Jonathan Erdman said...

As an editor, I reserve the right to manipulate and form language so as to suit my intentions of communication.

No, I am not going to quite the publishing business. The majority of what we do at Eisenbrauns has little to do with paper and ink. It has to do with producing beautiful literature. I think that in the digital age, editing will become even more important. Right now many publishers are cutting costs and cutting editing overhead. At Eisenbrauns this is not the case, which is a good thing (job security notwithstanding!). The future will be electronic, so what will distinguish good literature from bad is not the paper and ink, but the quality of the writing. As such, editing is vital. Also important (even more important) is distribution.

The paper copies will still be around, but as I suggest, they will be novelty items, perhaps reserved for the elites or the modern aristocracy or those who consider themselves elite!

Melody said...

The paper copies will still be around, but as I suggest, they will be novelty items,

That's a long ways off. Technology will have to take quite a few leaps before it is as comfortable to read as ink on paper is.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Like what, specifically??? What needs to develop that isn't already in the works???

Melody said...

Scrolling & electronic page turning are both incredibly hard on the eyes. The screen itself would have to be a lot easier on the eyes.

Plus, there's no flipping through an electronic book. It's just not the same.

A few years ago my parents bought me the entire works of P.G. Wodehouse (one of my all time favorite authors) on cd. All I have to do is pop the thing into my computer. I've never used it. I keep buying Wodehouse's books in print.

Then again, I also just shocked the snot out of the radio shack girl by telling her I didn't want an mp3 player because I like having the actual cds. Maybe I'm just anti-technology ;)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Agreed. But technology is in the works that will be easy on the eyes: handheld reading devices that will resemble the look of a book in terms of the way your eye views the page. No scrolling--page turning, instead.

Technology is not there yet, but in a few years they will have devices that are easy on the eyes and allow storage of many volumes in a lightweight device.

There will always be a preference for hard copies, but as I said, books will eventually be a novelty item for people like you, Melody. Someday you'll be sitting in your rocking chair with the grandkids, rapping your cane on the floor saying, "Darn it. I don't read anything but real books." The younger grandkids will say, "What's a book, Grandma??" And the older Grandkids will just kind of roll their eyes.

Melody said...

Hmmm, I have a long way to go before I'll be "Grandma" to anyone.

Andy said...

I disagree with you on one point: Being able to say, "I wrote a book" actually sets you apart from a vast number of people. Most people don't have the patience. Or they get stuck. Or...

A book is still an achievement.