Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In Which An Old Literary Form Makes An Appearance, And Our Author Expresses Her Approval

There is a brief mention at the end of this article about million dollar book advances that I find so thrilling, so game changing, I can't believe it's the first I've heard of it. A facebook friend posted this morning and most of the commenting (mostly by a bunch of white dude writers in their 30s and 40s*) was the expected (and understandable) sour grapes, and how nearly all the books mentioned by first time authors were about or geared to teen girls.

I've discussed this at length elsewhere on this blog, about how women read novels, women write novels, teen girls consume novels at a rate that cannot be over emphasized. Novel reading was called by the early Victorians a "feminine vice" and in many ways that still stands. The boys will just have to make do with their glowing reviews in the NY Times and their low book sales. The world is deeply unfair, I know.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about.

Right near the bottom we read that Mark Z. Danielewski (best known for writing House of Leaves), has received a million dollar advance for an upcoming serialized novel. Am I the only person who finds this earth shattering? I've been waiting to see what changes the widespread use of handheld devices would have on books, and I think this is one harbinger of things to come.

As I'm sure most of you know, many of the long novels of the 19th century by writers like Dickens, Collins, Trollope, Melville, and Tolstoy were serialized. The adventures of Sherlock Holmes were famously serialized in The Strand, as was the most significant American novel of the 19th century, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Then, with the decline of the periodical and the rise of the modern novel, with authors such as Hemingway, Woolf, Fitzgerald ascendant, the serialized novel was completely out of fashion. There were a few reemergences in the pre-internet era, most notably Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, serialized in Rolling Stone.

Now, we are once again in a world where serial is king. American movies are in deep decline, but our television, our serials, are in the midst of a new golden age. The conciseness of Modernism is no longer valued above all. And with the vast popularity of the Kindle and Nook and ipad, serialized novels are once again a completely feasible option.

I wonder if one day we'll look at the first years of the Kindle as we do the first years of cinema? Looking at filmed stage plays shot dead on with no editing or close ups seems a waste of this remarkable new technology. Will we view directly transposing existing novels in the same way? What narrative innovations will result? How will form dictate content?

Serialization seems an obvious first step. The medium lends itself to it, all they need is a hit.

Thrilling times are ahead.

*Delightful, all, don't get me wrong, but their perspective is, I think, a little narrow, bless them.

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