The “Death” of Book World

I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t care about the impending death of print media. Once in awhile, out of casual guilt, I try to scan one of the multifarious articles on the subject but usually I only make it halfway through. More often than not, I just skip them altogether. And now, as the Washington Post’s printed Book World kicks it, the debate refuels: is High Culture on the demise? The screams of terror sound anew and the menacing warnings are splayed violently across our news sources along with my own guilt which, throttled deep within my literary consciousness, apprehensively questions the reason I don’t actually give a shit.

I guess what it boils down to is that I am part of the problem. Fuck it, I am the problem, at least representatively. This morning, as I catch up on the news I missed this weekend (bye, Blago!) and peruse the lit blogs, I’m at my computer. I read all my news online. I have bookmarked The New York Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, and, yes, Washington Post’s Book World. And it figures that the woman next to me, in her fifties, is reading Updike’s obit from an actual paper. There is something romantic about starting your day with coffee and the morning news spread out before you, I’ll admit, but I spent my last dollar on an apple this morning for breakfast. Nourishment, I guess, trumps the fanciful notion of ink smudges.

And Book World is far from dead. It’s still online, alive and well. It will still be read. And restricting itself to a single platform might prove beneficial. It frankly shouldn’t be viewed so earth-shatteringly. And if it so problematic, we’re not looking deep enough.
“As it happens,” writes the New York Times, “Book World never garnered much advertising from publishers, who generally spend very little on newspaper ads. Publishers now focus their marketing dollars on cooperative agreements with chain bookstores, which guarantee that certain books will receive prominent display at the front of stores.”
If anything, “marketing dollars” and “cooperative agreements” are what will subtly slaughter literature, reading, book reviews, …your soul. Instead, because there is no event to mark its preposterousness, the issue receives passing mention in a piece about, let’s face it, a much lesser problem. I’ll take the moment to quote playwright Tracy Letts and his astoundingly judicious, Pulitzer-Prize winning confirmation that culture and art will never die, August: Osage County: “Dissipation is much worse than cataclysm.” And abundantly more difficult to define.

This persistent protestation about the tragedy of print media is a natural one. I should, ideally, accept it and even engage in it (which might mean reading an article or two) until it passes and the internet age is totally integrated. In the meantime, I’ll start bracing myself for the rise of Google Books and the Kindle, the thoughts of which, frankly, give me goosebumps. Is that hypocritical? Maybe, but I’ll save my defense for another day.