When you hear the words “Los Angeles,” you immediately think “books.” It’s a book town. They have this huge book festival every year, sponsored by the L.A. Times, which is staffed by book lovers who emcee book awards and moderate panel discussions about books. I saw it with my own eyes. Los Angeles is a place utterly devoted to literature, to the glamour of text. There are people in L.A. right this minute sitting through a movie, or watching rushes of a film in production, and thinking: This would make a great book.
The orthodoxy in Los Angeles is that “Citizen Kane” and “Casablanca” were both really good, but it’s a crying shame they never got turned into novels.
The weekend made me want to write a book again, despite the tribulations and humiliations associated with that process. It’s easy to get discouraged. Books don’t sell. Acclaim comes in dribs and drabs while failure arrives by supertanker. Book festivals can be particularly daunting because the guy next to you always has a longer line of fans. In some cases your own line consists of no one at all, while the guy next to you has a line so extensive it seems to go beyond the curvature of the Earth.
But it was inspiring to be around people who write books, publish books, publicize books and, most of all, read books. People like to read, still. We spend so much time agonizing over platforms. We worry about business models. And these are legitimate concerns — the world is changing pretty dramatically. But people still want to read good writing. And there are a ton of great books being written, including the ones that won the L.A. Times book prizes on Friday.
Writing is still a killer app — a technology that enables the thought in the writer’s head to be appreciated by a different person in a different place and time. It’s an ancient trick and after all these years it’s still pretty nifty. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be dressed up with lots of digital features, like links to other articles, or photo galleries, or comment threads (not that there’s anything wrong with a really good comment thread). The quality of a piece of writing is not dependent on its metadata, or the degree to which it has been optimized for a search engine. In fact, a piece of text — whether in print or online or on an ipad or Kindle or Nook or whatever — does not need extra features to be entrancing.
“The best feature of print is that it doesn’t interrupt you. It doesn’t try to link you somewhere else. It doesn’t talk back. That’s a killer app in and of itself these days. Interactivity is a great virtue sometimes, but there are other times when you want to read a story that doesn’t try to heckle you as it squirms in your lap.”
I would probably revise that now to make clear that it’s not “print” so much as “text” that I’m referring to. But notice how the Kindle is advertised as offering text that’s just like reading something in print. And the gold standard for print is still the book, carefully and professionally published.
That’s why they have book festivals and not text festivals, maybe.