Thursday, June 04, 2009

The End of Books?

Almost exactly a year ago I posted a blog about the end of reading. Along with the New Yorker, I lamented the sad fact that people just don't read. About two months ago, I highlighted another New Yorker piece about how cell phones are changing language. Well, the New Yorker has now put it all together for me: apparently people in Japan now write entire novels on cell phones. Part of me thinks this is awesome- I mean, using technology in new, innovative, positive ways is great, right? Part of me, though, is innately very conservative, especially when it comes to books and bookstores, and the tangible part of reading.

For example, my dad reads from a Kindle (I guarantee he doesn't look as creepy as that lady on the couch), and swears by it. He is a huge reader- gives me the majority of the books I review here- of all kinds of books, and just loves that thing. He reads faster on it, it's easier on his eyes, and for the first year or two of ownership, most books were accessible on it. He's only recently running out of books to read on the Kindle. I have been offered a Kindle and declined. Not only do I have 8bajillion books to read on my shelf (one of the reasons for starting this blog) but I love bookstores. There's something about walking into a bookstore that I feel like won't be achieved when shopping for online books for a Kindle. I can't quite picture walking into a store and shopping for "virtual" titles? How can I judge a book by its virtual cover? Not the same. This is part of my resistance. Plus, I don't really like reading on the screen. It hurts my eyes, and I have to sit up if it's on the computer, and geez. I have a lot of complaints.

So back to cell phone novels. We all know that Japan is on the cutting edge technology, so I expect to see these cell phone novels in the states in the future. Not the near future, necessarily, because the US is always way behind, but one day. Young women are writing these books in installments on their phones, making them up as they go along. They're all sort of romances with traditional themes of love lost and love found and tragic melodrama. The authors like to remain anonymous and out of the spotlight. And the books are blockbusters- they sell way better than any traditional book in the country (and probably more than any book here, either). Apparently, this is the "book" of the future. As a reader, I'm ambivalent. So are some feminist theorists:

But the stories themselves often evince a conservative viewpoint: women suffer passively, the victims of their emotions and their physiology; true love prevails. “From a feminist perspective, for women and girls to be able to speak about themselves is very important,” Satoko Kan, a professor who specializes in contemporary women’s literature, said. “As a method, it leads to the empowerment of girls. But, in terms of content, I find it quite questionable, because it just reinforces norms that are popular in male-dominated culture.”

As the "books" are not really edited- they're texted to kind of online companies, if i understand right- this genre doesn't seem likely to change much as it stands. It's selling, so why modify it to be more empowering for the women involved? Ode to the free market, right? And the authors don't make much from the "books", which seems to feed into the sort of passivity for both the characters and the authors. My ambivalence continues- to the medium, the genre, everything about it. And, if this type of "trash" is the only type of cellphonenovel out there, it's what's going to be read. Awesome. Call me conservative and reactive. I guess I'll take the Kindle over this.


Saoirse Redgrave said...

Hi! Sorry I missed your blog on cell phone novels earlier.

To let you know, (a US site engineered by US workers)held the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world in 2008.

I was awarded the grand prize for my abbreviated YA werewolf novel which I wrote in 5 weeks with a smidge of public participation (through polls). That abbreviated novel has been picked up by St. Martin's Press for publication in an expanded form as the first in a 3-book series.

The first novel of "13 to Life" is slated to hit shelves in 2010.

This year joined up with Dorchester Publishing to host "America's Next Best Celler" a contest for aspiring romance authors. Textnovel's also running its standard contest, too.

Regarding quality--publishing's always a wide spread, but we do have a couple published authors (that I know of off the top of my head) including a Canadian bestseller who regularly participates.

Will cell phone novels end the other varied forms of publishing? I hope not, but it is nice to see technology and traditional publishing working so nicely together to discover talent. :-)

Take care!
~Saoirse Redgrave
Author "13 to Life" coming to bookstores everywhere in 2010 thanks to and St. Martin's Press.