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What is the current state of literature?

I am asking all opinions on the state of literature today. Does it exist? Is there a difference between Literature and what most people read today (if they do happen to read).

It makes me sad that many men see reading as a “women’s” activity. Don’t we all appreciate a good story? Why is any novel that has an “Oprah” symbol on it now seen as weak fluff that is not suitable for men to read?

I hate buying books that have the movie cover on the book. Most of the time I have never even heard of a really good book until it is set to come out as a movie. Is that the only way books actually sell?

I am not sure if I will ever own an e-reader but I know I will never give up my books.

35 Comments

Barrett Chase

about 6 years ago

Literature does exist today. Very much so. Finding great literature is a lot like finding great music. You have to actively seek it out -- find sources you trust and follow them. You can't wait for the entertainment industry to dole stuff directly to you, otherwise you'll end up reading the literary equivalent of Katy Perry. Who knows about the stigma of the Oprah O and what that even means. If you avoided that, you'd avoid one of the best novels of the past few years, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Franzen actually denied the O the first time around because of exactly what you're saying. Eventually he caved. I'm biased, but check out Minnesota Reads for perspectives on what's being published these days. It's a site for voracious readers, so you'll find everything from literary fiction to graphic novels to celebrity memoirs.

Claire

about 6 years ago

Good questions, Stephanie! Re Oprah -- I do not see her book club choices as fluff at all. In fact, her novels oftentimes are a little too intense for readers. She loves to read books about people going through tough, tough times. Her choices are sometimes too dark for me. For instance, Toni Morrison is not an easy read, by any stretch of the imagination! And contrary to Barrett, I hated Freedom, but I may have been influenced by a personal encounter with Jonathan Franzen. But that's a story to be told over lots of liquid refreshment, not here on PDD. In terms of finding good books, I'd check out the DNT's Sunday bestsellers list, which they get from the Midwest Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Booksellers Association -- both are organizations of independent booksellers in the Midwest who report the books selling best in their stores. Since indie booksellers choose their inventory (rather than someone in NYC doing the selecting) and often handsell the books they most love, this list always has some amazing reads on it. If you want to know what's a good read, ask your local independent bookseller, I say. I always ask some indie booksellers I know whom I trust, like this one bookseller in Milwaukee who is always spot on. And I so agree with you about e-books. Not my thing at all.

Tom

about 6 years ago

Two words: Amazing Almonzo. Just asked for a goog read in your preferred genra, and your good for a month or two of reading. Not all literature, but plenty. I buy boxes of books there for holiday presents.

edgeways

about 6 years ago

It may be the circles you hang out in. I read a lot and my circle includes both males and females who read a lot. I tend to ignore Oprah, one way or the other. Her recommendations neither incites me to buy a book nor inhibits me from the same. I can imagine myself having an ebook reader at some point, but sort of like in the vein of music, I'll buy an mp3 but if I really like an album I'll get it on vinyl if available. I can envision having an ebook reader for something I know I'll read once, but not something I love.

Blazer

about 6 years ago

Literature exists...more so than most of can probably fathom. But you have to seek it out, hunt it, search in deep dark places for it. Pretty much, we - human beings - live in societies were we are inundated to the max with media, advertising, marketing, economic influences, social pressures, trends, blah blah blah (we started out as foragers that spent less than 4 hours a day gathering our quota of calories. Imagine that..4 hour workdays? No wonder were now overpopulated, huh?) Anyways, this mass blast of information that comes our way, totally overloads our cognition and gives us undesirable societal problems such as mental illness and postal shootings. It also distracts us from things of the past, like great literature. And while I don't know who oprah is, and can't knock him, I'm sure he is a product of the mass media conglomerate and the books that his club pushes are potentially wish wash that the marketing dept at penguin thinks is a great money maker (no knock to you, Barrret, either. When I think 'O', I think Million Little Pieces...and I cringe - hard..real hard). Sooo, the moral of the story is: seek out great literature in places where you wouldn't expect to find it - garage sales, basement used book stores, friends, musty professors offices, the amazing alonzo, that huge antique shop next to the Acoustic Cafe in Winona, etc.. The older, the less pop hysteria will influence you to read it for the wrong reasons. The best book I have ever read, by far, is ranked 24,129 in sales on amazon. Either I suck, or go figure (rhetorical)? And props to the previous comments. I'm bad at keeping up on whats current. Considering literature has been around ~4500 years, I put myself in a fickle as to where to even start. Nice thread.

tom

about 6 years ago

I love the casual conversation where someone drops a book reference...then, several people catch the reference, and those who don't are left behind. A deep and engaging conversation ensue. Literature aint broken, but it's badly bent. As a lousy reader, I have to discipline myself away from things like PDD to make time to read. Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible is on my top 5 list despite it's "O" stamp.

Claire

about 6 years ago

Don't be so down on Oprah, people! She gets people who usually read dreck picking up Faulkner, Morrison, Franzen, Angelou, etc! We in publishing consider her to be the most powerful person in the business. The day (soon) her show ends is going to be a dark day for the book industry. She's responsible for millions of books moving out the door over the years. BTW, Oprah and a few key staffers search out and select the books for her book club, it's not "wish wash" from one of the large publishers' marketing dept. In fact, most book publicists know not to push a book onto Oprah -- or, if you do, be subtle about it.

Barrett Chase

about 6 years ago

Speaking of e-readers, I recently bought a Kindle. I can't say that I LOVE it, but it is a lot of fun and I do enjoy reading books on it. If you like classic literature, you can download just about any book published before 1923 for free. That's got me reading a lot of older stuff. Paper books are usually nice, but often they're kind of cumbersome, especially if you're reading something very long in hardcover. The e-reader is really nice in that case. I wish that they'd been around when I was in college majoring in English lit. I probably would have been able to carry just a Kindle, and it definitely would have saved me a lot of money.

Carla

about 6 years ago

I love Claire! She always knows stuff and tells the truth. Yes, read the reviews in the papers. If you feel really ambitions, start reading the NYT Review of Books in the Sunday Times. Amazing Alonzo is good. And if you feel like a road trip this summer and wanna sit on the beach and read, check out Joan Drury's book shop in Grand Marais, Drury Lane. I have also heard good things about Garrison Keillor's shop in Minneapolis - but have not been there.

john

about 6 years ago

I agree with the "movie on the cover" thing, but I'd probably never have picked it up True Grit if the Coen Bros hadn't redone the film. Fantastic story to be sure. Hattie Ross is now a new hero of mine (as is Charles Portis). RE: finding things to read . . . All I have to do is look at something like the NYT's end-of-year list of "100 Best Books" and I can find numerous selections to keep me busy. I read fairly slow though so I don't need as much material to remain occupied (not to mention I'm a non-fiction junkie). And FWIW, I trust Oprah's choice in books just because she seems to give a shizzle about something being good as opposed to something being widely accessible. Can't say that for too many media outlets these days.

hbh1

about 6 years ago

My reading life was irrevocably changed when I worked at that crazy bookstore downtown for so many years. So in a way, I'm ruined for normal life. I read things I accumulated then, supplemented by books I find recommended on a sub-Reddit, or Metafilter, or newspaper reviews I find connected to something I've found interesting. Wandering through the library has led me to a few things, too. (Though I savor books too long to do well with libraries--I feel rushed when I borrow a book.) Mass market fiction has never been my thing. I suppose that means I'm snooty, but I was an English major, so that's a given. But I also rarely read whatever "currently hot"--I'm a used bookstore maven, even if that used bookstore is online somewhere. I'd rather wait, often for years, to see if something holds up to all the hype. I just finished Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. It was a great pleasure. Now I'm reading Out Stealing Horses, by that Norwegian guy whose name escapes me. I read books that make me pause, and look up at the big red pine in my yard to think about them. Both of those books were bought used on an Amazon affiliate. I doubt I'll ever own a Kindle, if only because I get enough screen time in my life. It's good to read something not made of pixels for a change.

hbh1

about 6 years ago

By the way, I'm well aware of the "evil" that is Amazon (I buy from those used booksellers that connect off the book--usually the cheapest). And that by buying used I'm not being a good booklover. Sorry. I'm poor. I also buy only specific books these days, due to that same fact. Browsing through bookstore stacks makes me spend money I do not have.

hbh1

about 6 years ago

Also! I spend a lot of time in elementary classrooms. I'm fascinated by the change that happens to boys after fifth or sixth grade. Most boys love to read up until then. Yesterday, I looked at boys' desks stacked with fiction (Ender's Game, Harry Potter--mass market youth fiction, you know). By seventh grade or so, only a subset of boys still reads, at least in public. Being perceived as "cool" becomes more important, I guess.

Claire

about 6 years ago

Heidi, his name is Per Petterson. He's got 3 novels now published in the USA by Graywolf. He indeed rocks. I knew he'd be big when my high school teacher in Calif. started raving about him to me soon after Out Stealing Horses was released in the US by a tiny Minny nonprofit press. I want to put in a plug for some of the YA literature being published these days, there are some amazing reads out there! Don't discount a book b/c it's in the YA section in the library or bookstore. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelley was hands down my favorite read last year. And we can't forget Harry Potter, a children's/YA series that introduced so many kids --and adults -- to books. I first heard about Harry Potter way back in 1998 from, you guessed it, independent booksellers. Barrett, I see your point about e-readers being less cumbersome than books, esp when traveling. Whenever we travel anywhere, we buy books along the way, then have to ship them home, it all adds up. But if I happen to lose my book or want to hand it on to someone, I don't think twice about it. I'd be worried all the time about losing an e-reader. And when I am on a plane and the flight attendant tells everyone to shut down their e-readers, I laugh, as I continue reading my print book. And, Carla, I love you too! You and Barb have some fine books shelved at the cafe, I highly recommend the selection there, there are some gems hiding out on those shelves.

doubledutch

about 6 years ago

"I love the casual conversation where someone drops a book reference...then, several people catch the reference, and those who don't are left behind. A deep and engaging conversation ensue." I love when someone makes a literary reference that I don't get, so they explain it to me, and I end up reading something really great I would have otherwise missed out on. I would say the men read more than the women among my friends, and when the women are reading, they are more likely to read something practical than they are to read literature. Reading for pleasure is something of a luxury. I totally get the aversion to the Oprah symbol and movie covers, but I try not to worry about it too much. If I enjoy the book, then it doesn't really matter that much if someone else thinks it might not be cool.

Barrett Chase

about 6 years ago

@hbh1: The Kindle screen is not made of pixels. It's made of e-ink, and appears almost identical to a printed page, and it is not backlit. I'd never be able to read a book on a typical LCD screen such as an iPad. @Claire: I do the same thing on planes. I probably won't bring my Kindle on a plane with me for that very reason. Or maybe I'll bring both. Who knows.

Claire

about 6 years ago

I have to admit, I heard rumors before it was announced that Freedom was going to be Oprah's book pick -- I rushed out that day and bought my copy, so I wouldn't have to buy one with an Oprah sticker on it. But, then, with Freedom, unlike every other Oprah pick, the sticker was peel-off, it wasn't a new edition with the sticker actually made a part of the cover jacket. Franzen actually discussed this in his talk at the Fitzgerald for the Talking Volume series -- he talked about cover art and how changing it to accommodate an Oprah sticker ruined the book packaging. It was a really good point, and apparently, when he told Oprah of this concern, she told him she'd never thought of that as a problem before.

stephaniejt

about 6 years ago

You guys are fantastic. I love all the answers and suggestions and the conversation that has been started. I feel like one day the only people left who read are going to be this underground group who secretly hoards and trades books. Because all books are out of print and there are no more trees for paper...this may be coming from my liking of post-apocalyptic novels....haha. I think it is great that Oprah has reintroduced so many people to classics and it just makes me a little mad that she gets negative feedback from it. I am actually reading Freedom by Franzen right now and had looked up the history on the whole Oprah thing. I am about 200 pages in and I just can't imagine what is going to happen over the next 350 pages. Is there really that much to talk about? We will see I guess. I actually LOVED the YA series The Hunger Games but I am kind of disappointed that it is going to be a movie because those who only like it because of the movie aren't really "real fans" of the written story. I was an English major as well and always had the good stuff presented to me. Now I have to dig around for the really great stuff on my own. I heard some really interesting stuff about gender during childhood and in school and how boys will start doing poorly in school because doing well in school is a "girl" thing. Probably similar with reading. Sad.

stephaniejt

about 6 years ago

I am "trying" to start a literary blog but it kind of sucks. How does one become a blogger anyway? Perhaps put in a little more effort than I have done. If you want to look at it and give some thought that would be okay. www.stephaniejt.wordpress.com

emmadogs

about 6 years ago

One of the best resources locally for good literature is the Duluth Public Library. I read book reviews from the New Yorker and New York Times, then check out the Library website, and 99% of the time, they've got the book. I've read about 10 books a month for the last dozen years,and almost every read has been 'free' from the Library.

Claire

about 6 years ago

kinda short notice, stephanie, but there's a book blogger convention in new york city end of may. If you want to book blog, read other book blogs and see how they do it. Maybe Bookslut? I think Bethanne Patrick has a book blog? You could google her name, she's pretty well known in the industry. I haven't read Hunger Games, but my daughter's been a big fan since it was first released. She's read all 3 books 4 times, I think. Dystopia is big with YA lit these days. Must be the aftermath of the Harry Potter series. Me, I will wait to see the movie.

jesusita

about 6 years ago

Literature certainly isn't dead (or dying), but I do think you have to find the right group of people to discuss books with. Maybe it helps that I have an English degree as do my husband and my best friend, though, so between us and other friends/family, we have a built-in book club almost. I'll recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, if anyone is looking for a good book. (Alison Anderson's translation from French is gorgeous. I'm looking for someone who has or will read it in French to discuss it with me to see how true to the original the ideas and certain translated sections are, as some may be translated for an English-language audience -- and I'm just curious like that.) I picked it up on a whim from The Bookstore at Fitger's a while back, just one of those gut feelings, and the book turned out to be just right. It's one of those books that seem like a conversation you'd have with another literary person, and it references other books (mainly Anna Karenina by Tolstoy -- definitely another one to pick up and read, if you haven't). I've never had to shut off my nook on an airplane. I just turn the wifi part off, and I'm good to go (same as with a laptop. If I'm watching a move, I just turn the wifi off and keep watching). I guess there's a reason the ability to turn wifi off on the nook is called "Airplane Mode." ;) I'm a voracious reader, and the nook has been a huge space saver in my carry-ons, since I would normally have to take at least five or six books (or more -- not including the ones I buy while on vacation) with me when I'm gone for more than a weekend (and I never check luggage). With my nook, I currently have over 300 books at my fingertips. I love the e-ink and lack of backlighting. I'm the same as someone else on here mentioned, though: I may first buy it on the e-reader, but if it's one I love, I'll buy a physical copy (and I still buy tons of physical copies, because my husband and I just love books) just like if I love an album, I'll buy the vinyl (if available). There's nothing like the smell and feel of a book, and as much as I love my nook for its portability and ease of carrying several hundred books around, it will never fully replace physical ones.

Resolut

about 6 years ago

Personally, I feel a pull to continue collecting old-fashioned books printed on paper rather than purchasing an EReader. I echo the sentiment of getting WAY too much screentime (even if the Kindles are easy on the eyes). But also I feel like the longevity of actual books is more assured. So much of our collective knowledge & culture is dependent on maintaining our technology. Sure, I can look up millions of recipes on the internet, but can we really count on uninterrupted access to the internet for the rest of our lives? It wouldn't hurt to keep a few cookbooks around just in case. I'm not just thinking about an unlikely post-apocalyptic future after an electro magnetic pulse frys all the circuit boards. But more practical concerns might be planned obsolence of consumer electronics, copyright issues, and the lack of ability to convert those EBooks to the next format. For example, I have 60 gigs of music on an ANCIENT Ipod I purchased way back in 2003. Itunes doesn't recognize it when I plug in into my computer, the battery hardly lasts 30 seconds, and the scroller only works occasionally. Most of the music I have backed up elsewhere, but in less than a decade technology has rendered the content in that format mostly useless. Just think of the availability of books on that Nook in 20 years after you lost the power cord and Barnes & Noble is long out of business. Old-fashioned novels can mold in basements and burn in fires, but they still seem like the best format for my personal library.

edgeways

about 6 years ago

For example, I have 60 gigs of music on an ANCIENT Ipod I purchased way back in 2003. Itunes doesn't recognize it when I plug in into my computer S'why it is important to be very wary of propitiatory technology and software. All my digital music players have to be plug and play/drag and drop. I likely will not go e-reader route until ebook formats are cross platform compatible

Carl Miller

about 6 years ago

These two always give me chills. Tom Robbins - has made me laugh - page by page. Haruki Murakami - Makes me think somehow a man jumped inside my head and downloaded inner dialogue from age 16-to the present 27. He's fucking brilliant. I go back and forth between e-books and physical paperback/hardcover. It really depends on where you are at and the mood you are in.

jesusita

about 6 years ago

That's weird about your iPod. I have one from about May/June 2004 (literally four days before they came out with the then-newer one, whenever that was in 2004) that is still going strong. I refuse to buy a new music player until this one dies, so I carry around my "brick" (according to people who see it) of a player. It still works with iTunes, and what's more, I can now download the music OFF of the darned thing (wasn't as easy back in the good ol' days when I first got it, especially since I had a hard drive go bad shortly after I bought it and had already mega-loaded it with music. The drive took my music with it -- and Apple was absolutely no help on that front for several years. Luckily, my husband's best friend was working for Apple at the time. When he eventually visited from CA, he was able to download the info for me to back up again.) Most of my e-reader books were downloaded from Project Gutenberg, which is a helpful site, as I can download them in a variety of formats (including plain text and some in pdf). Some of them even have the original illustrations, which is an added bonus for an e-ink reader. That said, probably 99% of my e-books are also in another format already (such as the plain text and so on), so I'm not worried about losing the capability to read my books in ten years. (Not to mention that I've only had to purchase three books on the entire thing, so I'm out little money even if it becomes obsolete tomorrow. B&N has weekly free reads and often has a large selection of free books in the classics range. Also, as I've mentioned, most came from Project Gutenberg anyway, and are in non-proprietary formats already. I can and do read pdfs on the nook. And as the nook itself cost me all of 39 cents --yes, cents--, I'm good to go for a while until it dies. Even if the technology becomes obsolete, I can and will use this thing until it dies and get my money's worth out of it. I tend to do that with technology except for laptops and computers due to my line of work anyway.) Some of my e-books are ones I have well-loved physical copies of already and just want a more portable version to read snippets here and there when I'm in the mood for that particular book or author. Carl, I agree about mood. I tend to read "lighter" literature on my e-reader, but that might be because I tend to buy the heavier literature I want to read (or check it out at the library and then buy it if I like it). There's just something about the printed page, no matter how much I like my nook. An e-reader is nice for those with impaired vision, though, and I wish e-readers had been around when my grandmother was alive. She read several books a day and often didn't even sleep for reading all night. When her eyesight started failing, she was sorely limited in what she could read, but with an e-reader, she could have adjusted the book text and read all night again.

bluenewt

about 6 years ago

The e reader is awesome for magazines. I took one of those online "what's your carbon footprint?" tests and it turned out a huge part of my contribution to global warming was all my subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. I didn't want to spend my carbon to pile unread New Yorkers about the house. Now I read New Yorker on my Nook. The only bummer is the cartoons are small.

Blazer

about 6 years ago

Claire: thanks for the clarification on Oprah's selection process...I think I was just going for a 'think for yourself, question the Oprah' stance..but indeed, there has to be some gems in there. And yes, although I have never used an ereader (am old-fashioned in certain respects), I think mood would be relevant. And there's something about having that physically weighted copy in your hands that seems to almost be an imprinted habit in my mind (at least, that feeling outweighs my fear of accidentally destroying an ereader in a freak accident)

Barrett Chase

about 6 years ago

It's really weird how people feel the need to justify why they do or don't want to use an e-reader. I'm going to stop doing that. If you want to use one, use one. If you don't, don't.

Resolut

about 6 years ago

Feel the need to justify? A polite discussion about the positives and negatives of e-readers is really wierd? I suppose you might want to pipe in to explain why you don't feel the need to justify your really wierd comment too.

Barrett Chase

about 6 years ago

No offense intended. I guess I'm just speaking for myself. I feel this impulse like I always need to explain why I started using one. It's a strange impulse. To me. I feel strange about the impulse that I have.

Resolut

about 6 years ago

Fair enough... and I'll learn the right way to spell weird.

Claire

about 6 years ago

As someone in the business, I am really interested in people explaining why or why not they're using e-readers. Keep it up, people, I'm takin' notes. Incredible how they've revolutionized book publishing in such a short time.

zra

about 6 years ago

Conneticut?

Claire

about 6 years ago

Here's an article about bookstores and bloggers a colleague of mine wrote, you might want to check out the blogs mentioned in the piece. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/print/20110516/47171-bookstores-and-bloggers.html

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