Thursday, March 01, 2007

Now I know why I needed a sabbatical to read Don Quixote...

This from a May 2006 Slate column on bookstores, reading, and such by econo-blogger and George Mason professor Tyler Cowen. I particularly like this paragraph from the article, for I find myself often distracted while reading. I sometimes don't know where to start, I have so much I am reading at the same time, and so much more I want to read.

The real change in the book market is not the big guy vs. the little guy, or chain vs. indie stores. Rather, it's the reader's greater impatience, a symptom of our amazing literary (and televisual) plenitude. In the modern world we are more pressed for time, and we face a greater diversity of cultural choices. It was easy to finish Tolstoy's War and Peace when there were few other books around and it was hard to find them. Today, finishing it means forgoing many other options at our fingertips. As a result, we tend to consume ideas in smaller bits, a proposition that (in another context) economists labeled the "Alchian and Allen theorem." Long, serious novels are less culturally central than they were 100 years ago. Blogs are on the rise, and most readers prefer the ones with the shorter posts. Our greater access to books also means that each book has less time to prove itself. A small percentage of the books published account for a large share of the profits, thus setting off a race to track reader demand. Many customers want very recent best-sellers, often so they can feel they are reading something trendy, something other people are talking about. Of course, that's its own kind of affectation—and not an entirely pleasing one.

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