The Implosion of Culture

This article in the Sunday Times is unbelievable. You needn't read it, I will give it to you in a sentence: it is now cool to read books again. Or perhaps: books are the new records. Or something like that. The mass entertainment industry seems poised to completely annihilate book culture; this particular article, for example, barely mentions what is actually in the novels written by all these new, hip, writers. I've only read one of them, number9dream by David Mitchell. Well, it's a hip title alright. Here's what I had to say about it:

First of all I read an interview with David in the Sydney Morning Herald, where he talks about the mind as a meaning machine. I note the title down and commence searching. Then I notice elsewhere it's been nominated for the Booker. I search harder. Months later, I finally find a copy and settle in to read. Maybe the search for the book raised my expectations, but I ended up being disappointed. Mitchell has commented elsewhere that he admires DeLillo, and I have seen him compared with Gibson—in my opinion, he doesn't approach either. Against the narrative scale of DeLillo, this novel is a children's story; against the cool minimalism of Gibson his Tokyo is a densely populated cartoon. Which isn't to say that the novel doesn't turn pages—the inventive structure kept me intrigued and the play between dream and reality also created a sense of suspense—the question is, were there no better novels to come out of the Commonwealth in 2001? In the end I think I'd be recommending the book to young readers looking for a path into literature—not to readers of serious fiction, and certainly not to Booker judges…

There's a great review by Aleksandar Hemon over at Slate which looks to have found the terminal point of this trend. It opens with:

Daniel Wagner's A Movie … and a Book is the worst book I have ever voluntarily read. Wagner is a 29-year-old snowboarder from Switzerland and has never written a book before. It seems that he has never read one either.

And closes with:

[…] the democratic ideal inherent in literature—everybody has something to say—has reached its limit in Wagner's case: It is no longer necessary to be able to write in order to be a writer. You just have to appear cool, and some publisher, forgetting what brought him to books in the first place, will pick up the meanderings you jotted down stoned out of your head.

The perfect critical review—write better than the person you're reviewing.