Publishing, like the rest of the world, is in crisis. But the world needs wise publishers—and wise novelists—more than ever. Those willing to take creative risks, on controversial issues and varying communication styles, would reawaken brilliant writing.
Banking on literature already popular elsewhere is less risky than cultivating new talent at home. But is risk a word which still applies to art in a time when the world is, or seems to be, falling apart?
Increasingly, the pressure for book publishers is to not think about the Long Tail but rather to feed the Short List. (The Short List is what we can all fit into our brains in the space of a day.) In David Gates’s measured review of Jonathan Littell’s new novel The Kindly Ones in the Times Book Review, he notes of Littell’s narrator that “his exquisitely mistuned consciousness seems a form of dandyism—a moral and spiritual luxury item in a world of devastation.”
The same could be said of literature generally in a time of economic despair—or panic. And yet, don’t the finest voices often rise in the crucible of crisis? Don’t we need to separate art from the market now more than ever? And if so, then don’t we need wise editors now more than ever? Only they can invest for the long run, and remind us that there will be time again for reading carefully—that some things, some writers, remain worth working hard to find, and working very hard to understand.
The Kindly One is 983 pages long. And the Kindly Ones says, not so subtly, Fuck you, Twitter. Some things take more time. And mind. Don’t rush.