All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org
Dear New Year,
Welcome! We’ve been expecting you. It looks like you’re settling in nicely and behaving yourself for the most part. Good for you. The first week is often the most difficult. Best to sit back and observe quietly before making any big moves. You don’t want to get a bad reputation right out of the gate. Save the big stuff for summer or fall or, better yet, just stay nice and quiet and polite for your entire stay. Read some Jane Austen. She’ll teach you how to be honest without being brutal. And when did honesty and brutality become so closely aligned, anyway? Let’s blame that on the 1980s, shall we?
Speaking of reading and honesty, can we get a bit more of both? The past decade has been an awful lot about the television and these so-called reality shows which, let’s face it, are not the least bit real. Now, inexplicably, these reality show celebs are getting book deals by the handfuls and sucking up what little publishing buzz is to be had. I do not begrudge the denizens of the Jersey Shore, the Real Housewives of Any Town, the Dancers Who Aren’t Really Stars or any Survivor their 15 episodes of fame on second-tier cable. I do begrudge their spots on the bookshelves, because (and I think we can agree on this, 2011) they do not write. It is one thing for a former president to hire a ghostwriter to tell the story of his time in office. It is quite another to hire someone to distill wisdom about fashion, dieting and eating bugs. And lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not one of those rabid anti-television people. I watch television, though not constantly. In fact, I get a little misty when Jon Stewart and The Daily Show are on hiatus.
Truth is, I get misty about a lot of things. Some of the sentimentality can probably be attributed to growing older if not wiser, but some of the sadness rests squarely on the shoulders of your ancestors. There seems to be a dearth of optimism in the world right now and, while I know you can’t take responsibility for your predecessors, it would be great if you could work to restore some of the good feelings we once had. No need to go overboard. I don’t think anyone wants a return to reckless spending and debt accumulation, but it would be nice if people felt better about the small indulgences. Here’s a suggestion for you: Bring back the novel as a trendy way to pass time. More of us are taking public transportation more often these days and many of us are embracing cheaper forms of entertainment. The time is ripe, I think, for a return to the pleasures of long-form fiction. Talk to 1997 about the launch of the Harry Potter series. That mania that made news, filled bookstores, became a cultural touchstone for a generation of children and parents? Try to create something like that for novels that aren’t written as a series, don’t (necessarily) feature sorcerers, and may not ever be made into a movie. It’s a challenge, but I have faith in you, 2011.
As to this business of E-Books and E-Readers, I wouldn’t think of asking you to reverse the trend. I suppose we must embrace the technology and use it to enhance our reading experience. Even I can see the benefit of carrying a small library around on a device that weighs less than a pound. I am one of those travelers who packs her suitcase full of books when flying. Let’s face it, with the airlines charging for every ounce of baggage, it isn’t fiscally prudent to lug around copies of Infinite Jest or the latest T.C. Boyle hardcover anymore. But here is my plea to you, 2011. Don’t allow the publishing industry to wander haphazardly into the electronic future. Give them some guidance and remind them that there are still a whole bunch of us who love the smell of books and who take great pleasure in turning a physical page or two before bed every night. Stir up some nostalgia for the days when stumbling across a signed, first-edition from a favorite author gave a little thrill; when we might worry about losing our collections to floods or fire, but never to a virus; when Wi-Fi connections and USB ports had no bearing on our ability to purchase or read a book. You can do it, 2011, I know you can.
Finally, and this is important, remember that years from now when people speak of you they will do so at least partly based on the literature published during your tenure. The written word, whether electronic or printed on a page, remains the best source for information about any year or decade or century. You will be no different. Don’t get cocky and imagine that Snooki or one of the Bachelors will tell your story in a poignant, lasting way. No, your best bet is to publish as many good, true, entertaining novels as possible and a few excellent short story collections, as well. Make sure there is some poetry in the mix. Then, if you’re very lucky, in 50 years or so, some young aspiring director or producer will read one of your books (probably on some newfangled technology we can’t yet imagine), become smitten with your charms, and decide that he or she must adapt the book for screen (or whatever passes for a screen in the future). The movie or electronic experience or gaming portal (see Nick Arvin’s late 2010 post for guidance) will inspire everyone who sees it to go back and find the original book (the one you helped create!) and read it. They’ll want to know all about you, 2011, and they’ll know that the truth is in the book. Trust me on this one.
Here’s to a happy, productive, literary year!