Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Fearsome Future

Speaking of books vs movies, I just finished watching No Country for Old Men, which is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy.  I knew that the book concerned an old lawman with an outdated code of honor, an overconfident Viet Nam vet trying to get away with stealing drug money from the Mexican cartels, and a psychopath.  The movie was fairly true to the tone of the book.  Both pretty much confirmed what in my lowest moments I already believe about the state of humanity, the world, and the randomness of life. Actually, I could have done without the validation of my darkest fears.  That said, the acting was excellent, and I really enjoyed those West Texas accents.

Now to business.  There is a lot of unrest in the publishing industry and among authors these days.  The awful economy in combination with the changing times - e-books, iPads, Kindles, and their ilk - have cast a cloud of uncertainty over us.  We begin to understand the true meaning of the Chinese curse that that you should live in interesting times.  Things are changing so fast that nobody can keep up.  How can one plan for the future?  You can’t predict which of the numberless trends is going to have legs and which is going to fizzle out.

I detect a lot of fear about what’s going to happen, and resentment, because as Debby pointed out, the authors are way down on the food chain, and no matter what format or delivery system comes out on top, the producers of the primary product will be the last to profit.  (Sort of like farming, isn’t it? Or the music biz.)

I thought of all of this sturm und drang when I heard last week of the death of J.D. Salinger.  The famously reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye left piles, stacks, boxes, rooms-full of manuscripts that he wrote just for his own enjoyment, any one of which he could have sold for an astronomical advance.  He made the conscious choice to create art strictly for art’s sake.*  He was able to maintain this philosophy because the first book he wrote made him a millionaire.  The rest of us can’t afford the luxury of such high ideals.  Sometimes I wish for the days when artists were supported by wealthy patrons.

I do like to tell stories, though, and will do my best to keep telling them however I may.


*or maybe he was just nuts.

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