And They Said It Wouldn’t Last, or, The Death of the Novel, or, Jeff Somers Owes Me $5

death_of_novel.jpgJeff Somers recently posted a spot-on reaction to Philip Roth’s assertion that the novel will be dead in 25 years. Let’s assume that Mr. Roth is correct, and that the novel won’t last beyond 2034. That would put it ten years beyond the centennial celebration for the first well known claim that the novel was doomed: Ortega Y Gasset’s* Decline of the Novel (1925).
The death of the novel has been claimed so many times that it has it’s own Wikipedia entry, so if you want a summary of the arguments (thin as they are) check that out. And I won’t repeat the arguments Jeff so clearly makes in his post. Instead I’ll take the opposite approach to the issue. To be sure, readership rises and falls (and as Jeff points out, some percentage of the population continues to read), but one other thing keeps happening: people keep writing novels. Would I appreciate having a million readers? Of course. But even if I don’t get that many there will be those who, like me, continue to plug away writing the damn things. And you know what? They’re probably among my first readers.
A lot is made of technology’s “early adopters,” those consumers who jump on new tech because it’s cooler, faster, brand-damn-spanking-new. Think of Kindle buyers from two years ago. We’re just now getting to the point where the early adopter market is done and a wider swath of consumers is ready to jump onto the e-reader bandwagon. Now, we don’t call early readers “early adopters,” but the same principle is at work. When a new author emerges she has to hope for early adopters to pick the book up, read it, share it, talk about it, etc. She has to work to find the early adopters and help them discover her. And who are a writer’s early adopters? People who love and support new writers, people who love to discover new talent, people who love novels and not just classics, people who believe in the continuing dialog of literature. In other words: people who themselves write. Not every reader will be a writer, but you can bet that just about 99% of every writer is a reader (I don’t think I’d want to read something by someone who doesn’t read).
My point is this: as long as people are writing novels people will be reading them. Even if only a small percentage of the population reads, there will always be a percentage that writes. We’ve just entered November, and so NaNoWriMo is upon us, and from what I’ve seen the number of people jumping into that self-flagellistic practice keeps going up year after year.
The novel is dying? It’s hard to claim something is dying when new examples of it keep popping up.

13 thoughts on “And They Said It Wouldn’t Last, or, The Death of the Novel, or, Jeff Somers Owes Me $5

  1. Good post. Would’ve been a great post if you’d focused more on the $5 Jeff Somers owes you. Or if you’d posted numerous examples of novels that aren’t dead. Or if you’d done something really original, like “Top 10 Reasons Philip Roth Wants to Commit Bibliocide.”

  2. Excellent way to think about the subject. I’ve never put much stock in the arguments that the novel is dying. People have always loved stories and will get them some way. While there are times when we may seek out stories that require less effort on our part, we like to imagine the scenes for ourselves. Novels are the cheapest way to provide this type of story.

  3. Ahh…but just in case, I hedged my bet. My book RESTORING HARMONY takes place in 2041. Just in case the novel is dead by then, I wrote it now and it comes out in May so I’m ahead of the imminent demise by 24 years.
    Fund pic & post.

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