The always-entertaining IO9.com has a tidbit about Philip Roth declaring that the novel will be dead within 25 years. Which kind of sucks since, you know, I write novels. On the one hand, I toss this into the Decline of Western Civilization Since Year One category, because people have been bitching and moaning about how everything is going to hell since we invented culture, and every subsequent generation produces a few twits who like to prance about declaring that this time it really is going to the dogs. It’s either The Kids Don’t Read or Today’s Music Sounds Like Robots Fucking or We Had Something Called An Attention Span Back in My Day or similar; yet somehow society continues and some of the things decried as crap in the past becomes recognized as art with worth by future historians. And life goes on.
Generally I ignore this stuff. For one, these folks are universally wrong. Sure, it’s possible that someday the novel will be abandoned. Maybe it’s even likely. But people who think they have seen the future clearly are nuts: You cannot see the future, and history will confound you. Television was supposed to kill the movies, video games were supposed to make kids into violent sociopaths, and no one was supposed to get excited about a book ever again. Somehow, books still sell in the millions, and some folks think teh kids today are actually better readers because of all this newfangled technology. It’s always easier to declare the world doomed, and it gets you more press.
On the other hand, there is always a possibility that a watershed moment is coming, and I know for sure that I will be the last person in the universe aware of it. The point is not that I know Mr. Roth is wrong – I don’t. He may well be right, though I am suspicious that he conveniently chooses a time in history when he will most likely not be here any more to defend his statement. No, my point is that I don’t worry about such things because there is nothing I can do about them. If the novel is going to be replaced by, say, Twitter Plays or holographic machinima in my lifetime and I am left as The Sad Lonely Man with Books No One Wants to Read, well, I doubt any bloviating I do in the meantime will make any difference. And trying to be out ahead on these things is just silly, because you end up chasing trends that burn out. People are buying and reading novels right now, so I’ll keep writing them. Trying to figure out what they might be reading or experiencing instead 25 years from now so I can get on that train before the rush is a waste of time.
Of course, I’m always wrong about everything. Ask people about my sad Fantasy Baseball draft picks, or my geopolitical predictions. So if the novel disappears and I am left on the street corner wearing a WILL WRESTLE YOU FOR FOOD sign, please don’t laugh and point. Just wrestle me, like a Good Samaritan.