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The decade in reading: How bad is it?

December 19, 2009 |  8:36 am

Twilight_bookfilm

In Sunday's L.A. Times, we take a look at the last 10 years: what the Internet has meant for reading, where fiction has gone, the cold publishing climate and why there are so many darned vampires.

Screenwriter Michael Tolkin ("The Player," "Nine") takes on the supernatural: vampires, warlocks, werewolves and our new literary fascination with them.

The Vampires are the aristocracy of the undead, who can, at least, talk. The Vampires are the fear mongers, the talk show hosts, the politicians who can't find a way to give health insurance to children, much less adults; the bankers, Ponzi schemers, drug company lobbyists, the theologians of prosperity. We can't understand them without first considering why they're in a symbolic war against the Lycanthropes.

Susan Salter Reynolds looks at the evolution of fiction in our world. From a powerful place in culture, she sees its real estate shrinking:

Writers write what they write, a path up and out of one generation's burden, one strangulating set of cultural norms into the future, regardless. But fiction, generally speaking, has been affected by this shrinking market, this smaller pie, largely in the last decade. It is more interactive, in very subtle ways. It tries to do more with less. Plot twists can be interpreted in many ways. Reality is layered, archaeological. Perspective shifts. The narrator is hardly ever reliable. Voices labor under the weight of excessive irony. Morality is more elusive as well. The poor reader searches for truth like a needle in a haystack.

And when Judith Freeman looks at the landscape of reading, she finds little solace in e-mail or e-books. Yet David Ulin thinks that there's possibility in our shifting relationship to words and story. Is he right?

What has changed is our sense of text as fixed, not fluid, as something solid to which we can return again and again. That's the influence of the Web, of course, where story has no end and no beginning, and readers are not passive but play a determining role. This is scary to a certain way of thinking, but I want to look in the opposite direction, to suggest that what is more compelling is how this opens up the possibilities.

Writing and reading are about engagement, about participating in a conversation, and inasmuch as technology can play a role in this interaction, it only draws more people in. How does the screen change things? This should have been the question of the last decade, but it appears it will unavoidably be the question of the next. What kind of platforms -- social networks, Web, print, multimedia -- are we looking at? And how do we move flexibly among them, using each according to its ability and taking from each according to our need?

As Ulin asks: How does the screen change things? How has evolving technology affected how you write and read?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo (left): "Twilight." Credit: Little, Brown.

Photo (right): Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in "New Moon." Credit: Kimberley French / Summit Entertainment

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