Monday, December 22, 2008

The Fall of Publishing

Editor André Bernard gives us “a year-end report on the mood in the book publishing industry” over at the Washington Post. It’s a nice piece. I particularly enjoyed Bernard’s comparison of the death of the publishing industry to the fall of Icarus as depicted in that famous Brueghel painting (you can see Icarus's legs disappearing into the ocean just off the front of the ship) and then described in the final lines of Auden's poem "Musée des Beaux Arts":

[T]he ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Bernard comments: “And it seems to me that it is we who are paying no attention, that we hurry home past that empty bookstore, looking blankly in the window, thinking instead about our dinner plans and our weekends, while the last lion of publishing is memorialized and then forgotten and the old houses of legend are abruptly, savagely shuttered.”

1 comment:

rjnagle said...

Wow, I must have missed that last line, which is nice.

I think there is a decline of book-based culture (though not judging by the ever-increasing size of my bookshelves).

But storytelling has always been alive and will remain so (and ebooks are being released by lots of no-names, some of whom will surely be great). One reason to be unhappy about the decline of book publishing is that it is a sustained immersive activity and relatively easy for a verbally-oriented person to produce and consume. Also, it provides a private voice (in a way that a Youtube video is not). For a more impassioned case for the novel, check out the extraordinary 13 ways of looking at the novel by Jane Smiley.