Monday, August 08, 2005

Mondays Make Me Grumpy

First Monday back to work after my at home vacation. It was a lovely week and I find myself wishing every week could be like the last one. But alas, I have no rich relatives and retirement is a long way away. I found an interesting article via Arts and Letters Daily yesterday suggesting blogs have been around for a long time, they just weren't on a computer. The author makes a well reasoned argument for considering blogs as part of the history of reading:

Indeed, blogging demonstrates the persistence of a key truth in the history of reading, an insight as obvious to Tocqueville as it should be to most bloggers today. The insight is that readers, in a culture of abundant reading material, regularly seek out other readers, either by becoming writers themselves or by sharing their records of reading with others. That process, of course, requires cultural conditions that value democratic rather than deferential ideals of authority. But to explain how new habits of reading and writing develop, those cultural conditions matter as much—perhaps more—than economic or technological innovations. As Tocqueville knew, the explosion of newspapers in America was not just a result of their cheapness or their means of production, any more than the explosion of blogging is just a result of the fact that free and user-friendly software like Blogger is available. Perhaps, instead, blogging is the literate person’s new outlet for an old need. In Wright’s words, it is the need "to see more of what is going on around me." And in print cultures where there is more to see, it takes reading, writing, and association in order to see more.
Feels good to be part of history. If I were a novelist or short fiction author I'd be really pissed at the NY Times for this and at V.S. Naipaul for saying things like
''What I felt was, if you spend your life just writing fiction, you are going to falsify your material,'' he said. ''And the fictional form was going to force you to do things with the material, to dramatize it in a certain way. I thought nonfiction gave one a chance to explore the world, the other world, the world that one didn't know fully.''
But I am a reader who loves fiction so these things make me mad. Fiction and nonfiction serve two different purposes. I'm sure writers like Jane Austen and Henry James would be quite surprised to discover that because they only wrote fiction they falsified their material. Does Naipaul mean that facts are going to be falsified or that the governing truth of a story--emotional honesty, characters that act true to their character, etc--is going to be falsified? If it's the former, well fiction isn't about facts. If it's the latter then it is a bad book and no wonder if people don't want to read it. To demand of fiction, as the Times seems to be doing, that it be relevant to current world politics and events is ridiculous. Fiction does not have to be about the current state of the world to be relevant. Charles Dickens still has quite a bit to say to us, otherwise why would anyone still read him? Instead of saying people would rather read nonfiction than fiction why not look at it a different way? Could it be that people are reading more nonfiction because they do not feel they are getting the information they want and need from newspapers or television news? Instead of saying fiction is failing, could we not say that traditional nonfiction reporting sources are failing? We could then suggest that people are being forced to make a choice between fiction and nonfiction since the general reader has only so much time to devote to reading in a day. If the newspapers (subscription rates are in a severe decline) and television news (really just entertainment) are failing, then a person who wants to be informed has to turn to nonfiction books and magazines. And since the time they would have normally spent reading fiction is now filled with nonfiction, fiction suffers. I could, of course, be terribly wrong but so too might the Times and Naipaul.