A few items from the mailbag I've been meaning to pass along. Reader David Bishop writes in about my BEA coverage to say:
The problem I see with literature is that in the past the ideas in novels were important, but today it's the commentary about the authors which is stressed. Books are no longer valued for the points they make about human nature, the human condition, etc. Today, "ideas" are actually passe as well. This being the case, why would one choose to read at all? In the old days, people wrote novels because they had a burning need to say something big--to communicate a larger truth about society or the world, if you will. This is severely lacking in writers today. Peck disdains the "difficult" postmodern writers but they were, in truth, seeking answers through art. William Gaddis, for example, wrote because he was outraged by what he saw in the world. My feeling is we need to get back to these values if we wish to revitalize literature, and even Art itself. Not to be disrespectful, but I don't see how bantering back and forth on a "literary" panel with publishers, critics and other non-writers really helps us much. This is just my personal perception from someone who loves literature, but is repulsed by the publishing and "book" groupies who proliferate around books. I hope I haven't offended you.
No offense taken. My favorite part about TEV is getting folks who disagree and have other points of view to express. I don't necessarily agree with your notion that writers today no longer write with "a burning need to say something big" - many of the writers I know do just that - but I do agree that the cult of the personality diverts focus from the work itself.
Blogger Cheryl Morgan wrote in about my item covering the tex message version of The Iliad.
I was interested to read your comments on the Microsoft version of The Iliad. I've just been reading "The Twentieth Century" by Albert Robida (first published 1882, English edition newly available from Wesleyan). In it he postulates a fashion for "condensed literature". Here is his version of the Iliad:
At the walls of Ilion, over ten years, alas!
The Greeks fought like lions, led by King Menelaus,
Ajax, Agamemnon, and the brave Ulysses.
Hector, son of Priam, died, killed by Achilles.
One of Robida's characters remarks, "I have in my library another translation of The Iliad, in four volumes, but I like this one better; it's clearer and easier to read. In our busy century, we need fast and concentrated literary works."
Interestingly Robida doesn't seem to have been trying to predict the future. He was a satirist and cartoonist, and edited a weekly satirical magazine similar to Punch. Where Phil Dick wrote about the most paranoid
future he could imagine, Robida tried to make the future as absurd as possible. Both of them have proved worringly prescient.
Finally, regular reader Dave Lull dropped me a line to provide this link to a detailed look at the liquor serving bookstore I've recently covered in these pages. Thanks, as always, Dave!\
As we've mentioned before, the mail situation has exploded, especially since BEA, but we love hearing from you and will get to everything in due course. Please be patient with us.