In 440 B.C. or so, a first-time Greek author named Herodotus paid for his own book tour around the Aegean. His big break came during the Olympic Games, when he stood up in the temple of Zeus and declaimed his “Histories” to the wealthy, influential crowd. In the 12th century, the clergyman Gerald of Wales organized his own book party in Oxford, hoping to appeal to college audiences. According to “The Oxford Book of Oxford,” edited by Jan Morris, he invited scholars to his lodgings, where he plied them with good food and ale for three days, along with long recitations of his golden prose.
[…] What else do people think the Old House could be used for? Why haven’t they done anything about it in the past seven years? There were jackdaws nesting in it, half the tiles were off, it stank of rats. Wouldn’t it be better as a place where people could stand and look at books?”
"Are you talking about culture" the manager said, in a voice half way between pity and respect.
"Culture is for amateurs. I can’t run my shop at a loss. Shakespeare was a professional!"
”—Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop, p. 10, where the widow Florence Green is arguing with the bank manager about buying the ramshackle Old House and converting it into a bookstore.
“There are those who moan, oh, Shakespeare wouldn’t have written all those wonderful plays for us to “modern update” if he’d had Angry Birds and Darklady.com. Is it so terrible, here in the 21st century? A sonnet is perfect Tumblr-length, and given the persistent debates over the authorship of his work, the bard would have benefited from modern, cutting-edge identity theft protection. The old masters didn’t even have freaking penicillin. I think Nietzsche would have endured non-BCC’d e-mail dispatches in exchange for pills to de-spongify his syphilitic brain, and we can all agree Virginia Woolf could’ve used a scrip for serotonin reuptake inhibitors. I digress. The Internet is not to blame for your unfinished novel: you are. People write novels in prison, for chrissakes.”—
I read this when you first posted it, but it’s stuck with me. I’m not sure what it means, exactly, for the book business or storytelling, but Tumblr—in particular—seems to have become a sort of communal memorial for this curious custom once known as reading.
You see images of children and lone, moody individuals, lost in text, and—in some extreme cases—mute volumes, there on the nightstand, evoking … something. These are photos the person you describe might enjoy, but they don’t do much for me.
It’s as if, just as an art form was about to be thoroughly democratized, people were rushing in to re-pack it in mystery and solemnity. I hate solemnity — and literature will be better off with out it.