zaterdag 16 juli 2011

Just in time

Last week The Shame of Reason appeared, the English translation by David Bevan of my book Schaamte en verandering. Right before the holidays, just in time for all those Englishmen, Americans and Australians who on their beaches en masse start reading the book.

Nonsense of course, but perhaps the ‘just-in-time’ may hold with regard to a quite different trend that occupies the media: the impending demise of the traditional booktrade. Within a few years from now, such a book as mine might not find an editor anymore, at least for a paper edition.

Everywhere I hear sad news from the side of publishers and bookshops. In Holland sales of general books shrank in the last five months by 3.8 percent and 4.7 percent in 2010. Publishers delete jobs and titles and join with one another in order to survive. Bookstores are struggling and cut staff. The book-selling markets which are currently best performing are those at the petrol station and supermarket. As causes for this development are mentioned the digitization, the economic crisis and the trend that people read less and less.

Do I myself get sad because of this trend?

Well, if the trend would stand for the demise of interesting ideas that are being well expressed, I certainly would, because I can not easily do without. And indeed, the traditional publishers and bookstores are precisely the places where one can find that. There one may even physically enjoy the nice combination of style and thinking, with or without a cup of coffee. But the question is whether those physical places are really essential and whether good writing in electronic form cannot as well meet my needs.

My gloom is even further relativized because I, frankly, never was a fan of strict literary bookshops, of the psychological novel "as a pillar of our literacy" (Maartje Somers) and of the cliques that go with them. As for me, I am rather sympathetic to those who, as Theodore de Boer recently described with respect to the Dutch poets of the fifties, radically break away from an age-old tradition of adoration of letters. Which break in the vision of De Boer is also a departure from Platonic metaphysics and classical aesthetics.

What remains is that I am pleased with the print publication of my book. Actually I have the best of both worlds, because the full electronic version is already available at the same time.