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Does a book need readers?

An article in this morning's New York Times on the decision of novelist Philip Roth to put aside writing novels raises an interesting question. Roth insists he is always being misquoted as saying that the novel is dying. "I do not believe the novel is dying"; "I said the readership is dying out";  "I said the screen will kill the reader, and it has. The movie screen in the beginning, the television screen and now the coup de grâce, the computer screen."  Roth added: "Why should we have any more readers? The numbers don't mean anything. The books mean something."

Having published 31 books, Roth can now, at age 79, be flippant about the absence of readers for books published these days.  I suppose his defense would be that he is just being factual, and he would be right.  However, also at age 79, and not having published a book until now, I cannot be so philosophical as to proclaim that my book does not need a readership.  And if Roth thinks that readership of novels is dying out, what must he think of the readership of poetry and poetics?

One of my potential publishers sent me a nice rejection note (if there is such a thing) stating that Jose Garcia Villa "is a very interesting figure and I think his ideas about poetry are valuable.  But I don't really see a way for us to do it--it is a kind of fugitive work, of historical significance but I think it would be hard to find readers for it today.  I hope someone else will see it differently."  At least to this publisher, and I suspect to all publishers these days, a readership for a tendered manuscript is a sine qua non for acceptance.

As with Roth, I decry the declining readership for books, and the influence of movies, television and the internet in replacing haute culture with pop culture.  But when it comes to placing pop culture ahead of restoring a lost art, that's where I draw a line.  And so I soldier on in attempting to restore the art of lyric poetry of formal excellence to its rightful place at the crest of the pantheon of American literature.  From my perspective, there is today a sufficient readership of bad poetry and non-poetry to provide an adequate readership for books such as mine.  I guess we will see, won't we?

Tagged in: Jose Garcia Villa
Vocation: Wall Street Trial Lawyer (Retired)
Avocation: Poetry and Poetics
Studied poetry with Jose Garcia Villa 1970-1997
Writer and Publisher of Poetry


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Guest Tuesday, 20 February 2018