By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Still, it's satisfying to imagine a literary utopia where new technologies and new attitudes would prevent great books from falling by the wayside, would never privilege the new solely for its newness. To some extent that utopia already exists: The Internet has made it so that old reviews and rare titles are now easily available at the click of a button; Amazon's preference algorithms bypass the single-mindedness of the display table to unearth literary treasures suited to your taste ("You may be interested to know that Knut Hamsen's Growth of the Soil Vol. 2 is available."); the lively world of web litblogs, free from the pressures of journalism, promote books from all time periods (for example, the online literary magazine thesecondpass.com offers spirited reviews of older works) and neglectedbooks.com contains essential gleanings from our literary amnesia; and the rise of eReaders and the iPad eliminate printing costs, making it possible for publishers to sell easily across their backlist.
The potential for the iPad to contemporize and repackage novels is endlessly exciting. Novels could get the full "Criterion Collection" experience and come with a wealth of supplementary information: a comprehensive history of a novel's covers, links to online book communities, reviews, biographies, photgraphs, authors interview, short stories, etc. Zeitgeist would come included.
The essential realization is that there are many ways to inject books with a quality of "newness." Since 1999 The New York Review of Books has been rescuing obscure authors and republishing their works as exciting new discoveries. Lost novels, like Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Française and Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone, have become critical and commercial hits. New translations by the likes of Edith Grossman (Don Quixote), Lydia Davis (Swann's Way) or Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (War and Peace), cause spikes in sales and coverage. Penguin's clever Graphic Classic series provides jacket design makeovers to an intriguing mix of old titles, including not only obvious choices like Moby Dick but also Don DeLillo's White Noise and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. (Canonized classics tend to have healthy commercial lives, surviving in high schools and academia; it is the work of the last 10 to 60 years, the literary middle-ground, that is most endangered.) Roberto Bolaño's Savage Detectives and 2666 became recent literary sensations, not because they were new, but because they were new to us.
In truth, there would be nothing wrong with the overemphasis on new books except for a simple fact. We cannot read them all. Life is short and literature is long. It takes, on average, 15 hours to read a novel, which means it would take 59 years with no sleep to read only the ones published last year. We are drowning in an abundance of riches. We need help finding our way to the book lover's Holy Grail, the novel that forever alters our perception of the world. To this end, instead of being told what to look forward to, we should be reminded of what we already have.