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NBCC Reads

Guest Post: Kelly Cherry on the Next Decade in Book Culture

By Kelly Cherry

As we wind down the “aughts” decade, with digital books galore on the horizon (and the $195 Norton facsimile edition of C.J. Jung'sobjet d'art/culture The Red Book selling out around the country), the NBCC seeks the best guest posts about the future of book culture, including essays,interviews and free-range opining. The topic: How do you see book culture evolving over the next decade? This response is from  Kelly Cherry, the author of 19 books, most recently  Girl in a Library: On Women Writers and the Writing Life, just out from BkMk Press.


I feel like the sky is falling.  My idea, from the beginning, was to write a shelf of books—books with covers, titles, and spines—whose meaning would come to more than the sum of its parts. I have published nineteen of these books, and three others are more or less done, but that leaves thirteen to be written: on what? air? light?


So I read all the news about digital printing and print-on-demand and e-book readers and Amazon and Google and anything else that seems to fly into this general area, but I can’t say I understand it all.  I don’t really want to understand it.  I believe in what is now called high culture but was once simply culture. I believe in string quartets, the value of rigorous philosophy, and the making of poetry.  I believe in serious fiction. 


I know I’m not alone, that there are other people who will continue to keep actual books on hand, just as there are those of us who congregate in small groups to hear string quartets. Maybe, in the end, we’ll return to a kind of samizdat, small groups gathering to hear a manuscript read aloud—or to read copies online.  We will have to rely on our own judgments, our own critical opinions (never as good a tool as debate, but without reviewers—or with so many they cancel one another out—who will do the debating?). Some good may come of this. Hype may die down. Publishers may rediscover their backlists (backlists are the only way to promote reader loyalty and therefore the best way to sell books).  I don’t see how the independent bookstore can benefit, though, and I so wish they could. And I suppose book sections are never coming back. I loved book sections, even when I disagreed with them. I still do.


These days a writer must scrabble a way through the bush even though it is dark out and there’s no path to be followed.  Okay.  I’ll scrabble.  I am scrabbling.  Why? Why do I choose this particular grief?


For the sake of the books.  Which may never become books. But I made a promise to them long ago, and I keep my promises.  I will go on writing because I have something to say and that something is best said in books.