Rolling into the 19th century, printing had become so ubiquitous of an enterprise in Europe that publishers were faced with a unique problem: there’s just too much stuff to read out there. As printing costs plummeted, many publishers attempted to cash in on the emerging middle class by providing them with publications and books at cheaper and cheaper prices. Eventually, this race to the bottom had the unintended side effect of hampering profits for publishers, as consumers got used to paying less for works of writing, but not necessarily buying more print to make up for it. For desperate publishers, their problem was remedied by a format that changed the course of literary history: the serial.
One of the benefits of being a stuck-up teenager who refused to read anything that wasn’t a Western canon classic was that I missed out on some very hit-or-miss movements in literature. Being involved in honors and AP English, we didn’t get much of a chance to read contemporaryish literature, so as I proceeded further in my English degree, I realized many books of the 90s and 00s were a blank space for me. I slowly realized the value in reading more contemporary novels, but the journey wasn’t without some missteps, namely in the form of literature produced by Generation X. Reading books by Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, and others as a young adult felt embarrassing, mainly because their work had permeated through so much of shared consciousness through movies, video games, and music, to the point where it felt clichéd and trying too hard to be edgy. However, being a middle schooler who loved The Catcher in the Rye, I probably would’ve ate this stuff up if I was introduced to it as a teen.Read More »
Back when I was a pre-teen, I was mesmerized by documentaries. I remember watching Michael Moore accept his Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine and being enthralled by his acceptance speech (I even asked my parents who the Teamsters were), despite only being 8 years old during the 2000 elections. For the rest of the decade, I continued to consume this very particular type of documentary; documentaries that guided us through our wacky world, all spearheaded by a charismatic host who’s more than willing to bite off more than they can chew. For a pre-teen boy, documentary filmmakers like Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore were the prophets of truth who spoke to how the World Really Worked, Man. I could tell they had an impact because of the wave of imitators they spawned, all with their unique take on post-Gonzo journalism. As time wore on, I eventually discovered that both filmmakers and their adherents were not as honest or thorough as I was led to believe. They were largely entertaining, sure, but I developed a healthy skepticism for the popular nonfiction crowd, whether they worked in film or print.
Which brings us to one Jon Ronson.Read More »
About this time last year, I was sitting on a bus in Disney World reading two different novels about dystopic hellscapes. The stark contrast was not lost on me as I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and William Gibson’s Neuromancer for an hour each day while I was ferried around The Happiest Place on Earth, an oasis for pale Midwesterners like me. Ready Player One was definitely a hate-read for me (I had first heard of it on a podcast about bad books), but I found it surprisingly breezy to get through despite all my groaning and eye rolling. Neuromancer, on the other hand, was a really compelling and revelatory work that seemed to be unfairly categorized as “genre sci-fi.” Reading both books simultaneously was a happy mistake, but I was grasped by how each writer chose to build their respective fictitious worlds around them. I know it’s unfair to compare Ernest Cline, a popular nerd culture rememberer, to William Gibson, the man who birthed cyberpunk from his loin, but comparing their approaches can be useful in determining what makes for good world-building, and what falls flat.