Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Gregory Alexander's perspective on the future of the book

Following Monday's piece about the future of the book, Michael Antman kindly writes to say that another view of the same topic is offered by Gregory Alexander at the ENC Press web site.

This turns out to be a thoughtful and exceptionally well written essay, full of good sense. It offers considerable hope, I feel, to those who are just beginning to think about writing books, if only they will take on board the simple statistical facts and make wise decisions accordingly.

I don't agree with everything that Gregory Alexander has to say. In terms of fact, I think his suggested figure for books in print (1.2 million in English) is much too low. As for opinions, I don't agree with his view that the only really good book is a book which has been heavily edited.

First of all, it isn't necessarily the case that a heavily edited book is improved as a result. And second, I for one believe that a writer should take responsibility for his own work. No one edits my own current fiction (or non-fiction either), which doubtless means that a number of foolish errors creep in. But, there it is. I take full responsibility for it: good bad, or indifferent. And frankly, I would much rather do that than have someone else muck around with it.

That said, I recommend Gregory Alexander's piece as a model of clear thinking and writing.

There are, by the way, other excellent essays on the ENC site, including one by the publisher of ENC. This is highly recommended to those who are newbies in the writing/publishing world.

There is also an essay by Michael Antman, who gave me the link to this site. Michael, it seems, is interested in poetry (something of an eccentricity these days), and he makes the point that the stuff which currently passes for 'good' poetry, and is printed in such 'eminent' journals as the Paris Review, is pretty pathetic, pallid stuff.

He is dead right, of course. (The Paris Review fiction, by the way, is on a par with the Paris Review poetry -- i.e. it's only of interest to those who want to know what the magazine is publishing so that they can get published too. I had more to say about this on 20 September 2004.)

Michael says that the average free-form 'poem' is merely chopped up prose. Furthermore, when the chopped-up stuff is reassembled, 'it isn’t even well-written, not as sparkling or memorable as the work of the average big-city newspaper sports columnist.' Judging by the examples offered, that is not only true but a kind and generous way of putting the matter.

Still, no doubt there are three- and four-year MFA degree courses on offer which will tech you how to write poetry of this kind. And then you too can get it published in the Paris Review, and then you too can get a job teaching on an MFA degree, and as a result the world will be a much better place.

Er... won't it?

3 comments:

John Barlow said...

Your comments on Paris Review fiction - that 'it's only of interest to those who want to know what the magazine is publishing so that they can get published too' - are unfair and ill-informed. I got a novella published there, a 50-pager about a man who eats dead dogs and furniture. It wasn't a typical MFA piece. The reason why all sorts of writers seek to be published in the PR is because of the list of other writers who have been published there. Writers who were published there FIRST, or at least early in their careers, include Philip Roth, Borges, Beckett, Jack Kerouac, VS Naipaul, Italo Calvino, Jeff Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen... As for the long interviews, which normally concentrate on the writer's craft, they have covered virtually every significant writer in English, and are utterly fascinating. You should try it for the interviews alone.

Anonymous said...

If you read the link back to the earlier post mentioning the PR by the Grumpy Old Bookman, he claims never to have read it. that's ignorance in its purest and sadest form, I reckon!

John Barlow said...

Plus, didn't GOB say in the earlier (linked) piece mentioning the Paris Review that he'd never read it? There's opinionated and there's just plain ignorant.