Has the esteemed Philip Roth, one of our most respected living American novelists, gone insane, at age 76? In this interview (see below) with Tina Brown, lately of The Daily Beast, Roth plays harbinger of doom and announces the death of the printed word – coming to you in the next 25 years.
Roth predicts that the culture of the book will be relegated to the darkened caves in the society of the future, there being little place for the printed word in a world dominated by television screens and computer monitors. While I agree that the bound book is headed for a major change in readership, his ideology that most modern humans lack the concentration and focus to be able to read a novel, thus being the impetus for the impending doom, is somewhat absurd. Is the number of casual readers (those reading for “fun”) in the world, per capita, so different now than at any other point in history? Can we really make a blanket statement like, “people just don’t read anymore”, when there are so many more of us out there than ever before?
There are readers among us (hello!) who take umbrage at being referred to, even hypothetically, as “cultish” for preferring the bound book, as opposed to viewing or reading books on a “screen”. Or worse yet, he equates the potential numbers of bound book readers in the future to be similar to the numbers that today “read Latin poetry”. The weird part about his prediction is that he doesn’t think e-readers will have a positive effect on readership at all – as if it is already too late for humanity.
“The book can’t compete with the screen. It couldn’t compete [in the] beginning with the movie screen. It couldn’t compete with the television screen, and it can’t compete with the computer screen. Now we have all those screens, so against all those screens a book couldn’t measure up.” (excerpted from The Guardian, UK)
Despite all that, the craziest, most alienating thing uttered by Mr. Roth was this: “If you read a novel in more than two weeks you don’t read the novel really.” As if to somehow highlight his “fact” that people lack the proper concentration for novel reading. (Note that Roth’s last three books have all been novella-sized. Coincidence?) I read fairly fast, but I guarantee that in over 2 weeks, I will still be reading Orhan Pamuk’s new book. Does anyone out there think that I lack the “concentration, focus, and devotion to the reading” necessary to be a reader? You see Mr. Roth, books written by Nobel Prize winners should be savored for longer than 2 weeks. Sorry.
Tina Brown Asks Philip Roth About the Future of the Novel from The Daily Beast Video on Vimeo.