Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Beyond satisfying: Publishing in an Era of Information Overload

Jenny Lee's article is a thoughtful essay on the history of book publishing and reading. She raises a number of really fascinating issues. She suggests the culture of publishing that has dominated for decades is out of touch with the cultural changes that have been taking place and risks losing legitimacy with readers.

Jenny Lee: "To cite just one example of such a stance, for decades now the publishing community (including authors and literary journalists as well as publishers and editors) has been awash with complaints about the 'ignorance' of the younger generation. If we take a broader view of the processes of cultural change, it becomes clear that this complaint is driven by an unreflective attachment to a limited canon of book-centered knowledge, a canon that has increasingly lost its purchase in the intellectual sphere as well as in the broader culture. There is a practical risk here: if authors, editors and publishers all share the same canonical assumptions, the works they produce will offer no intellectual purchase to even the most willing of the new generations of readers who have been educated in a different set of traditions. To take just one example that has vexed me recently, scholarly books that cite French and Latin sources without the courtesy of a translation leave many younger readers feeling belittled and bemused."
Perhaps the most interesting issue she raises is the role of the reader in publishing.

"For a book to do its job, it has to solicit a considerable amount of voluntary labor at the point of reception. In the case of fiction, this might involve inducing the reader to suspend disbelief and become immersed in the imagined world of the work; in memoir, narrative suspense might be allied with the voyeuristic pleasure of gaining an insight into another person's life experience; in a book of analysis or commentary, it is primarily the desire to learn, to gain new knowledge from an authoritative source, that drives the reading on."
I've frequently talked about the expectations of library users and technological advances on library users, but thinking about how they influence publishing is an interesting insight.