Lewis Lapham and the Fate of the Book

Posted by Lewis Lapham at 6:08pm, April 22, 2012.

[Tom Engelhardt writes, an an introduction to Lewis Lapham's article. . .] A decade ago, I wrote a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, about the world I had worked in for a quarter-century.  I already had at least some sense, then, of what was bearing down on the book.  Keep in mind that this was a couple of years before Facebook was launched and years before the Kindle, the Nook, or the iPad saw the light of day.  Still, back then, for my novel’s characters — mostly authors and book editors like me — I imagined an electronic book-in-the-making, which I dubbed the “Q.”  It was the “Q-print,” officially, with that initial standing for “quasar”– for, that is, a primordial force in the universe.

When one of my younger characters, an editorial assistant, unveils it — still in prototype form — it’s described as “a sleek, steno-pad sized object… a flickering jewel of light and color.”  And he imagines its future this way: “Someday it’ll hold a universal library and you’ll be able to talk with an author, catch scenes from the movie, access any newspaper on earth, plan your trip to Tibet, or check out a friend on screen, and that probably won’t be the half of it.”

An older publishing type, on the other hand, describes its possibilities in this fashion: “In a future Middlemarch, the church will offer public service ads when Casaubon appears, the drug companies will support Lydgate, and architectural firms can pitch their wares while Dorothea reorganizes the housing of the poor.”  A decade later, that may still be a little ahead of the game, but not by so much.  The inexpensive version of the Kindle is awash in ads by now and, books and all, the iPad, of course, is a riot of activity.

Don’t think of me, though, as the Nostradamus of online publishing . . . (click here for the rest of this article).

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