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Has reading changed?

Obviously, tastes in literature change. You have only to pick up a novel by Dickens or Trollope or Thackeray to see that. Which is not to say that those writers aren't still being read. If the story and the characterizations are strong enough, a book can stay in print long after the author is dust in his or her grave. But that doesn't change the fact that someone writing exactly like Dickens or Trollope or Thackeray would have a hard time getting a book published today.

In fact, a fan of Jane Austen sent some of her work to agents and publishers and got soundly rejected or ignored. One hopes the folks who ignored it recognized the work, as the one assistant editor who chastised the fan about plagiarism clearly did. The folks who rejected it showed first that they weren't familiar with Austen and second that literature evolves. A classic can survive change but it has to take root in its own time.

There are occasional throwbacks. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell read a lot like a 19th novel in that it was full of digressions, footnotes, and lengthy background chapters. But although that book garnered awards and sold reasonably well, almost everyone I asked about it said they had trouble "getting into the story." I listened to it as an audiobook as way around that, and found the story compelling and even funny in places. My experience illustrates the fact that technology has intruded into something that had been the same experience for generations. For centuries if you wanted to read a book, you needed a physical copy of it, and either you had to read it, or another human had to read it to you. Now, in addition to print copies, a book can be recorded by the author or an actor, podcast, sold on CD or as a download, or sold as an ebook, and read on (or by) an eReader.

So, the act of "reading" has clearly changed. But in addition, what people do for recreation has changed. In addition to movies and TV, there are video games that are story-based. Books have a lot more competition. And the recent announcement of a new "digi-novel" that combines web-based videos with a printed novel could be the first of a new trend.

Or not. Movies are, to me, the screenwriter, the director, and the actors imposing their collaborative version of a story on the viewer. Books are a more one-to-one connection.

As a reader, the appeal of novels has always been the experience of immersing myself in a world that the author creates but that I alone inhabit. That is, the author relates the story, but my own experiences, thoughts, feelings, even prejudices, define how I interpret that world. My experience of a story may be very different from someone else's. I like that. As a writer, I create a world and people it with characters, telling a story I want to read myself. At the same time, this allows me to connect with someone who reads it and takes their own experience from my story. I love that.

Personally, I'm not eager for either the reading or writing experience to change.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 6th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
Personally, I'm not eager for either the reading or writing experience to change.

Me neither. Well said.

Fwiw, I can't and don't listen to podcast. My main enjoyment is hearing the music on the page for myself.
Sep. 6th, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC)
Music on the page-- Interesting analogy. I am the least musical person I know, so I never thought of it like that, but I can see it.
Sep. 6th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
I think of the rhythm of the words as the beat and the word choice as the notes. This is really a big deal to me and I love when I read prose that flows or the sentence rhythms work to create music on the page appropriate to the mood of the story. :-)
Sep. 7th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
Hmm. I don't think if even think of music that way. I must truly be missing a gene.

But I can actually understand it more with words. They do have their own rhythm.
Sep. 7th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
I've also seen it described as the use of long vowels and soft consonants, as compared to short vowels and hard consonants. A tranquil love scene would use the first and an action fight scene the second. Sometimes when deciding on the right word I try to weigh the shades of meaning against the sound of the word, too. "Begin" and "start" often mean the same thing, but they have a different sound that can affect the emotion timbre of sentence. My two cents. *g*

Sorry it took me so long to chime in on one of your posts. I just don't know much about Kindle/e-books. I'm more of a writing/reading topic kinda guy. ;-)
Sep. 7th, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
Not a problem. To me, it's many facets of the same topic. The reason I am so enthusiastic about eReaders is I think they make it possible to read more.
Sep. 7th, 2009 02:15 am (UTC)
The only reason I don't want to ponder them is that I can't afford one at present. Someday though. Right now I need a new PC. I have two, but the Internet one is getting old. I have a writing PC too. Two screens side by side. I'm hooked on the dual system. ;-)

Edited at 2009-09-07 02:16 am (UTC)
Sep. 7th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)
I do, too! My writing laptop is an Internet virgin-- no wireless card. When I write, I don't want to be tempted by the web,
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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