I think he is wrong. To compare the novel vehicle to Latin seems a bit exaggerated, if not completely pessimistic. Day after day, I hear people discussing how the novel is a dying breed. That print is going to die out. How people do not have the concentration to focus on something 400-pages long.
I wonder what is actually being considered a novel. For many new authors, their works are coming out in the electronic form first. This derived from music trend with iTunes. Many new bands have their music tested before their work goes to the CD form. Likewise, many independent publishers want to test the waters in the eBook form when they take a gamble with a new author. In a failing economic situation, the aforementioned only makes sense. Perhaps what we hate most about the world is when it makes sense.
Phil Roth just does not consider enough. I think novels are still in, but people are reading different things. Flash fiction has taken off because you can read it anywhere on, say, a cell phone.
About two years ago, I did not think eBooks were going to catch on, but then I changed my mind the minute I used an Amazon Kindle and a Barnes and Noble Nook. Just using the devices made me believe that novels still had room in the future. There is something new and pleasing to the eye about eReaders. And besides, are eBooks not books too? Check this.
I guess Roth addresses the idea of the print versus the electronic book, more than whether or not novels will exist. I do not believe that the novel takes any one form, such as print or digital. It is more about the style of storytelling, the involvement with emotional depth, character development, and plot. There are so many things I am not even mentioning here. Point being: the novel will always exist in some form.
Assume Roth is correct about attention spans today. The novel just needs to evolve. Several authors have started embracing multimedia forms. For instance, a novel might leave a star next to a particular passage. Well, one gets online to the author's website and finds out that there is a video or another story to correspond with the book. Roth also hints that he does not believe eBooks will be the future.
A good way to determine what is working in the market, is to look at some of the most successful authors and see what they are doing. What's that? Stephen King and Dean Koontz just finished novels available exclusively in the eBook form? Interesting.
Another point about eBooks, if you will. Technology and writing have always intertwined. Authors like Kerouac tried adhering pages of paper together in order to cut down stalling time. It took a lot of time to reset a page in a type writer. Then there was the word processor. Now there is the digital age. Hell, in the future books might come in the form of neurological implants. Robots might read our children bedtime stories from their hard-drives. Writing always moves with technology. The novel will just take an new form.
Back to attention spans. (Sorry,I just cannot focus on anything for more than three seconds, right?) My generation cannot handle writing novels, let alone reading them. One word: Excluded.
If Roth doesn't believe we have the attention spans, then he should have suggested something much different. Why can't novels be re-imagined? Make them aesthetically pleasing. Make every word count. Leave out the boring stuff. Grab the reader by the throat and force them to finish the novel.
If people aren't buying books, it's because other things are more interesting. Film, television, the Internet: all these things are far more encompassing than words on the page. Correction: the words currently on the page. Change the words. Reinvent story telling. Stop using longevity to publish droll stories. Write something interesting.
I just want to say I disagree with Roth and encourage novel writing. As a matter of fact, Roth has been complaining about the death of the novel for at least ten years now, yet he continues to write novels and does not intend to stop in the future. Doesn't that show that he is more optimistic than he leads on? Why spend so much time on such a long manuscript when in the near-future, it will not matter?
Did this blog post seem to be all over the place?
One more point before I go: I believe Roth is a great writer and fantastic leg-puller when it comes to his novels. I am in no way ridiculing his profession or his work. My dissenting opinion rests solely on his pessimism towards the novel.
Check out the guy below.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.