Print Is Dead? Not on Tumblr
There’s been talk that the lit world is in crisis. That, as a society, we’re reading less, texting more, without the patience to pick up — let alone stick with — a good book. But oh, that’s all wrong: Reading is alive and well. In fact it’s flourishing, at least if you ask Benjamin Samuel, co-editor of Recommended Reading, the Tumblr lit magazine from the folks at Electric Literature. Each week, Samuel and his team bring the crème de la crème of today’s best fiction to a computer screen near you — via previously unpublished short stories as chosen by popular authors and editors. We asked Samuel what it means to read and write in the digital age.
How is new technology affecting the literary world?
Technology has certainly had a massive influence on the way readers engage with literature, but I’m not sure recent developments have changed literature itself. You can look at the rise of self-publishing, but, again, I’m not sure that’s a change in literature as much as it is a change in publishing. The real change brought on by technology is the way we can now discover and read literature.
Is that what you’re doing with Recommended Reading?
Today’s readers have to navigate an overwhelming amount of content every day, and by publishing one piece of extraordinary fiction a week, we’re helping them make the best use of their time. We’re using social media and digital publishing to reach readers where they already are.
So you’re allowing us to spend more time reading great content, and less time trying to find it.
Well, we’ve all become so accustomed to Netflix and Amazon tracking our preferences that we’re only making safe choices. It’s the difference between a computer program saying “you’ll like this because you liked that” and a person who lives and breathes fiction saying “you have to read this because it’s the greatest thing I’ve read in five years.”
Do you think leafing through a hardcover will eventually be replaced by finger swipes across a screen?
Print is not dead, and it’s not dying either. Just as technology has allowed us to create enhanced eBooks, those fears are inspiring publishers to do wonderful things with print books. I’m reading Kapow! from Visual Editions right now, which has sentences slashing across pages in a way that can’t be replicated on a Kindle. And I’ll always buy from McSweeney’s because the work they publish is wonderful, but the physical books are works of art in their own right.
How has the role of the writer transformed?
Writers are no longer these elusive figures typing away in isolation. You can read their blogs, you can tweet at them.
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