Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Guest Post: Chuck Leddy on the Next Decade of Book Culture

By Chuck Leddy

As we wind down the first decade of the 21st century, 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 Dorchester, Massachusetts based NBCC member Chuck Leddy.

Book culture is moving away from a centralized, top-down landscape. Technology is making personalization the future, so readers, book buyers, and the general public will increasingly be able to tailor their reading/buying habits in a way that reflects their individuality. You can find whatever you want, whenever you want. Of course, the media (also increasingly decentralized) can push and prod, but the individual will be securely in the driver's seat.

There will be room for authority, for a critical voice that people harken to. In an age of “too much information,” filters become essential. But any authority must be earned in practice — and through a less-mediated relationship with readers. A print masthead (whether “New York Times Book Review” or an impressively title) will not be enough to cloak anyone in authority. Any critical buzz about a book, or anything, will be more and more built from the bottom up. This has its drawbacks too — we can imagine an author's mother (or an author herself) aggressively posting about her daughter's new novel on a social networking site. Do these “reviews” have any critical value? Again, filtering is increasingly important, and the need for objective analysis will not disappear.

We can see a general direction for book culture. It will be faster, more decentralized, more democratic. Book lovers will find what they want and will continue to have conversations (over the web, if not over the living room coffee table) and build communities of like-minded people. What do we do as book critics? I guess we should continue to love books enough to go where readers are going. We can't speak in a vacuum. As for the general shape of the economic model for book media, nobody knows for sure (ask ten media folk and you'll get ten different answers), but we're in the middle of a long transition period now. We'll see what happens, but surely book critics will have to be more flexible, adapting their skills to evolving media (whatever they look like). Can we make a living in this new landscape? Well, we'll see. I'll end on a cliched note of optimism: every challenge represents an opportunity. Book lovers still need us, and we'll have to find a way to get our voices heard. There will be a vibrant book culture, and critical voices will remain essential.