Malcolm Jones, writing for Newsweek in anticipation of the announcement of the winner of this year’s Dublin IMPAC prize, ponders the problem of keeping up with the vast number of books published each year (50,000 in the United States alone this year). He writes:
This is where the Dublin IMPAC prize does readers and authors a true service, by promoting writers we might otherwise never have encountered. I don’t see how any serious reader could have missed the Pulitzer-winning Junot Díaz (a Dominican-born writer who immigrated to the United States as a child and writes in English), but it would have been lamentably easy to overlook the work of Roy Jacobson or Indra Sinha or Jean Echenoz, or even Michael Thomas, an American author. The Dublin IMPAC shortlist is a marvelous education in global writing, going back to its first prize in 1996, which went to the Australian David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon.
The problem, and it is a severe problem, is that the list is not even the tip of an iceberg; it’s more like a sign that says iceberg here! Each of us can read only so much, and while it’s a wonderful thing to be introduced to literature from around the world, at some point, you want to yell uncle. The number of new fiction titles published in this country each year currently hovers around 50,000. We are drowning in books, and no one can hope to keep up. Author Bruce Sterling recently published “18 Challenges in Contemporary Literature” on his Wired blog, Beyond the Beyond, and No. 8 on his list was, “Long tail balkanizes audiences, disrupts means of canon-building and fragments literary reputation.” By that he means, I think, that companies like Amazon can service niche markets, improving the chances of little-known authors, for example, but not breaking those authors out to a broad audience. So even authors who get published aren’t reaching a lot of readers. And the readers they reach are quite often in separate camps that don’t speak to one another. Tower of Babel, anyone?
The Dublin IMPAC prize for 2009 went to little-known US writer Michael Thomas for his riveting Man Gone Down.
For Jones’ complete article go to http://www.newsweek.com/id/201568?from=rss