A transatlantic debate is currently raging about whether a decade of staring at computer screens, sending emails and text messages, and having our research needs serviced instantly by Google and Wikipedia, has taken a terrible toll on our attention, until our brains have been reconfigurated and can no longer adjust the tempo of our mental word-processing to let us read a book all the way through.
Over at Booksquare, blogger Kassia Krozer has a pointed analysis of the New York Magazine article that caused the internet vs. reading debate to blow up:
What is really meant by this, and what is really meant by this article is that a certain segment of the publishing industry is in jeopardy: literary (with a capital L) fiction. More specifically, literary fiction from New York publishers. Look at who is doing the hand-wringing, who is doing the worrying. If this is the end (and it’s not), then what, exactly, is ending?
This is where the New York Magazine piece misses the boat. It sees publishing through the eyes of the literary crowd, not the reading, writing, publishing crowd.
Reader-oriented news and review blogs like Booksquare, Bookninja, Bookslut, and lit-blogging metablog My Friend Amy… are becoming increasingly influential in readers' and publishers' decision-making -- the LibraryThing blog gets sent hundreds of pre-release books every month for the site's users to review.
As the publishing industry negotiates digital publishing and readership, with all its technical and copyright issues, it remains to be seen whether book blogs, the Kindle, Salt's revitalisation through an online store and digital magazine, and other innovations represent an accommodation between an older form that is struggling to retain its identity, or an emerging, shifting hybrid through which book publishing and the internet will change each other. Who could have predicted that Amazon, which started out as an online bookstore, would come to define online (and, for booksellers, offline) retail?
Walsh's article begins with the image of a reader at a café table making notes on the Hemingway novel that he is reading. Perhaps the Internet catches readers' attention most when it expands this function: Amazon reviews, virtual book groups, unlimited essay space courtesy of blogging software -- and an attentive community with which to share, hone and exchange insights. In a sense, the PEN Atlas acts like a Facebook for books -- or more specifically an OurSpace for readers, writers, publishers, bloggers, translators and browsers.