Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I know this is old news by today's standards, but I am pretty impressed with Nathan Ihara's article in L.A. Weekly titled, "Tyranny of the New: Why the future of books might be old books." This is a simple article, but one of those that I read and wonder if Ihara tunneled into my brain to get his idea.

And his idea, his point, is that publishers are always pushing new pubs as the best books ever, so good they'll blow anything you've read right out of the water. But Ihara doesn't buy it, and he calls them out by saying, "all the middlemen along the way — the publishers, publicists, critics and book sellers — know the truth: The book they are hyping probably is not the book you ought to read, not even the book you would most enjoy reading. That book lies hidden in the back of the bookstore, or perhaps not even there. It is 10-, 20-, 35-years-old. However good it is, no one talks about it anymore. You might not have heard its title or its author's name." BAM.

Ihara goes on to explain why this happens, that we all want to feel we're moving forward and the endless march of exciting new fiction and revelatory new non-fiction is evidence that yes, there are yet new things to explore and discover. But then he does his magic trick, throwing together the sound argument he has just made - luring us bookie technophobes in with that line about the bookstore, that dog! - by bringing up the opportunity offered by the digital future:

The potential for the iPad to contemporize and repackage novels is endlessly exciting. Novels could get the full "Criterion Collection" experience and come with a wealth of supplementary information: a comprehensive history of a novel's covers, links to online book communities, reviews, biographies, photgraphs, authors interview, short stories, etc. Zeitgeist would come included.

Now wait - when did Apple get to this party?! And how dare you give Jobs et al good ideas for what they can do with books! (I should note that I was getting on a plane last weekend and as I walked through first class - ahem - I saw no fewer than THREE ipads.)

Yes, I do think Ihara is offering something fun and intriguing here, but I also must salute him for offering resources now available for those of us who prefer to find our reading material not in the review sections in newspapers - though those are important and I do *not* want to see any more cut - and not in the "just published" section of Amazon, but more idiosyncratically, with no regard for how recent but instead how fitting for our own quirky literary sensibility. Ihara mentions The Second Pass, which offers "spirited reviews of older books," and The Neglected Book Page, which "contains essential gleamings from our literary amnesia." I'll add both sites to our sidebar, which needs cleaning up anyhow.

I won't even get into the mind-blowing that was the Association of American University Presses meeting in Salt Lake City last weekend. Too much, too soon. Too many ideas, too many experiments, too many talking heads - almost all of whom are worth listening to, but at the expense of my sanity. I'm still sorting through it all. For now, I just want to take a moment to slap Nathan Ihara on the back and thank him for this article, before I dive into my massive pile of old books purchased at a library sale recently and find some gem.... most likely published before I was born.

To old books!

(Thanks to Shelf Awareness for including a link to the article way back on Monday, when it came out!)

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