The Art of Reading a Novel, or, Why Philip Roth Won’t Be Buying a Kindle
First, I think that Roth needs to qualify what he means by “a novel.” From this video, it seems he means a work of fiction that takes time to absorb, time to read, and effort to understand. Second, if that’s what he means then stories like Moby Dick, Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Brothers Karamazov, etc. will no longer be published. Third, if those are the novels that Roth is meaning, then the novel died in the mid-20th century, and Roth himself is not even writing those kinds of novels.
The novel is like water. It changes with the flow of time, what it’s running through or over, so to speak. The novel is also a reflection of culture. I think there will always be novels regardless of what media is out there to compete with it. Granted, Roth does make a strong point that it takes effort to read “novels”; works that take effort and time to absorb and understand. When I was a kid growing up in the 70s we had two of the media means that Roth discusses—Television and film. There were no video games, there were no home PCs, there was no internet, and there were no e-Readers. Also, television was limited to 4 channels—NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS. Because of that, I spent a great deal of my time reading.
Having been a teacher for 4 years, I can tell you the number of kids who read has decreased exponentially in the last three decades. Also, the internet, and I agree with Roth here, has caused our minds (especially the generation who is currently growing up with the internet from day one) to not be able to concentrate like it used to. Tumblr is a prime example. Whenever I post long articles (several paragraphs of written material) it gets less attention than the short quotes or pictures. Most of the really popular internet sights are set up to give small amounts of material in a very short space. We take these things at a rapid rate, never really needing to reflect (Facebook and especially Twitter are perfect examples of this). This, I think, is causing attention spans to wane.
So on the one hand, Roth is correct, but on the other hand, because of this, the novel has changed. For example, some of the best novels today are stories that are a little shorter, or sometimes longer, but contain shorter chapters (shorter bits to take in over a longer space). Examples of this kind of material include works from J.M. Coetzee, Francine Prose, Jonathan Safran Foer, Cormac McCarthy, etc. Even Don Dellio has written shorter stories. So it’s not that the novel will disappear, it’s that it will need to adjust and change with the times as it has in the past.
What do you think?