Do you share the current pessimism about the state of American publishkng?
are fewer readers of literary fiction, and that young writers who aren't immediately
successful have a difficult time getting their second and third books published?
I think that's correct. Again I have very little
knowledge, just a sense of it. I think that the kind
of readers that would make it worthwhile to print a literary writer are dwindling. People seem
to read more purely for escape than when I was younger. You look at the books that people
are reading on an airplane, and you never see a book that you would want to read. It's always
these fat thrillers by John Grisham or Stephen King or names I can't even conjure up. Danielle
Steele. It's discouraging, really, if you're a so-called literary writer. Not that Stephen King is in
another part of the universe -- it's the same universe, it's just kind of a different corner of it.
There are some (serious readers), heaven knows, and the book critics tend to be of this sort.
So you find book reviewers living in another world from the bestseller list. That can't be too
healthy. When a literary book does get on the bestseller list it's usually because it's sensational
in some way, like "Lolita" or "Portnoy's Complaint."
In other words, there's a greater gap between
what we think of as literary fiction and
what people are actually reading.
When I was a boy, the bestselling books were
often the books that were on your piano
teacher's shelf. I mean, Steinbeck, Hemingway, some Faulkner. Faulkner actually had,
considering how hard he is to read cnd how drastic the experiments are, quite a middle-class
readership. But certainly someone like Steinbeck was a bestseller as well as a Nobel
Prize-winning author of high intent. You don't feel that now. I don't feel that we have the
merger of serious and pop -- it's gone, dissolving. Tastes have coarsened. People read less,
they're less comfortable with the written word. They're less comfortable with novels. They
don't have a backward frame of reference that would enable them to appreciate things like
irony and allwsions. It's sad. It's momentarily uphill, I would say.
And who's to blame? Well, everything's to
blame. Movies are to blame, for stealing a lot of the
novel's thunder. Why read a novel when in two hours you can just go passively sit and be
dazzled and amazed and terrified? Television is to blame, especially because it's come into the
home. It's brought the fascination of the flickering image right into the house; like turning on a
faucet, you can have it whenever you want. I was a movie addict, but you could only see so
many movies in the course of a week. I still had a lot of time to read, and so did other people.
But I think television would take all your day if you let it. Now we have these cultural
developments on the Internet, and online, and the computer offering itself as a cultural tool, as
a tool of distributing not just information but arts -- and who knows what inroads will be made
there into the world of the book. (underline added).