Y’all, you know how you know a book is good? When here it is, five years later, and you’re still thinking about it. So, this morning, I read this little blurb about Salman Rushdie declaring that television is the new novel: “TV drama series have taken the place of novels.”
And don’t get me wrong, I really love the extraordinary things we’ve gotten to see on TV. But I’ve been thinking about this in terms of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book, The Anxiety of Obsolescence, which you can and should peruse here (at least read the first and last parts). In her book, she makes the point that we live at a time of unprecedented literacy. At the time she wrote the book, every medium sized town had a Borders or a Barnes & Noble or both. Oprah could make a best-seller just by mentioning a book on her show. And, yes, times are different, slightly, but man, did you see the passions running high about that piece in the Wall Street Journal about young adult fiction ruining children? We actually have conversations about the “death of the novel” at the same time the novel’s being touted as having the ability to ruin children. So, you know, it doesn’t have any cultural power any more, except when it does.
One thing Fitzpatrick is trying to get at is who benefits from that narrative–that the novel is dead, that only a handful of people still write important books, and that those important books are kind of coincidentally usually written by financially comfortable white guys. And I think it’s obvious that those white guys benefit from it. But now, I think we’re at a point, especially with the rise in popularity of young adult fiction which, for all its problems does a much better job of being very diverse both in terms of content and writers than “the novel” has had and the rise of self-publishing where there’s a sense that you couldn’t just snooty-patootie the riff-raff out of writing.
But the idea that television drama has taken the place of novels? Oh, that’s good. That dismisses all of the actual novels being written as, of course, not being necessary, of being obsolete. And it draws a tight little circle around who gets to be these new “novelists.” Hint: it’s not you and me.