Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I love Larry McMurtry but . . .

. . . he’s wrong about this:
Q: What will you talk about at Rice [2009 Friends of Fondren Library Distinguished Guest Lecture]?
A: The end of the culture of the book. I’m pessimistic. Mainly it’s the flow of people into my bookshop in Archer City. They’re almost always people over 40.
I don’t see kids, and I don’t see kids reading. I think little kids love to have stories read to them, but when they get to 10 or 11 or 12, they run into this tsunami of technology: iPod, iPhone, Blackberries.
They don’t resist it, and it’s normal that they wouldn’t; it’s their culture. I’m not so sure they ever come back to reading. Some will, but most won’t.
This is from an interview McMurtry in the Houston Chronicle. I see kids reading. I saw kids reading and thinking citically and passionately about books when I accompanied author Pat Schmatz to a meeting of St. Paul’s Teen’s Know Best YALSA galley group last week. Pat blogged about the experience, so I’ll just say that I’ve visited this group many times over the last two years and it never fails to make me excited to be a part of the world of books.
Yes, they’ve all got cell phones and they take the Internet for granted, but I see that pushing them towards books more than away from them. For example, as Pat mentions in her blog, there was a vigorous and thoughtful debate about vampire novels among the twenty- five or so teens in attendance, and Pat and I were both struck by how this debate would never have happened when we were growing up (and I’m only fifteen years older than these teens). These “kids” are extremely sophisticated about the books they read within the context of popular culture and publishing trends. Maybe they’re  not curling up with a book and escaping all other distraction as frequently (a sentimental and suspicious activity I think is in some part a wishful adult projection), but there are lots of teens who are reading with their brains on.   I don’t think you found this awareness in the previous generation and I think this kind of reading bodes well for the future.

PS: Don't miss Leila Roy's blog on this.


Steve said...

I suspect you're right. I also suspect alarmists have been making similar pronouncements since the age of radio.

Shelli said...

i agree. I dont think b/c they are the web generation that they dont read. Maybe they read on kindles and ipods but it is still reading.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Oh, boo on this idiotic pessimism "end of the book" stuff! If it's not the end of kids reading books, it's the end of publishing, or the end of books as we know them and ohmigod-we're-all-going-to-be-playing-pacman-on-our-blackberries-soon stuff.

Did they miss the memo on children's publishing being the strongest sector of the book biz these days? Sure, maybe they're not reading Pride & Prejudice (although blog discussions with bookish teens and school visits seems to argue otherwise for this too), but they are reading.

I think a better question to ask is why it is that adults are the ones buying books for kids instead of the kids being engaged in the buying process. I can't tell you how many times I've been standing in the YA section next to a frantic mother on a cellphone saying "wait, it has a what on the cover? I'm looking for it, honey . . . "

Teens are reading. Maybe they aren't buying, but they're reading.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I think you're spot on. I watch kids in the bookstores, they are so thoughtful about what they choose, what they want to read - and get them talking about it and you're right, they're a very sophisticated audience - something for which, I don't think, us adults ever give them sufficient credit.

As for the end of the book - stories have been with us forever and always will be, storytelling forms change and grow but story is enduring. I wonder what people thought would happen to story before books appeared...!

IndianThenNowForever said...

I think what McMurtry means when he references "the culture of the book" is that the physicality of reading a real book--the dustjacket, the binding, turning the physical pages--is something that's dying, and about this, I believe he may prove correct. He is, after all, a bookman, has been for some fifty years now. I visited his bookstore in Archer City Texas this spring, and the manager told me he touches every book that's on the shelves, prices every one himself. He hasn't said anything about stories disappearing; just the proliferation of technological distractions for human beings as they grow up. He doesn't use a computer himself, by the way--he types on a manual typewriter, so it might stand to reason that he is suspicious of such things.