Friday, May 3, 2013

What Will Happen If There Are No More Books?

The Kindle Edition of the great novel...By the time you read this Papa will have sold more than ten copies.

By now you've probably heard about the big advertisement book-idea mogul James Patterson ran in the New York Times last week. I'm not going to tear it apart sentence for sentence because other writers like JA Konrath and JE Fishman have already done a far more intelligent job of it than I can ever hope to. But one sentence in Patterson's curious rant struck home with me. He asks, "What will happen if there are no more books like these..." and then he goes on to list a whole bunch of novels that have, in part, helped shaped the 20th century as we remember it, and in a few cases, the 21st as we are presently living it.

I can only assume that when Patterson says "no more books" he means no more "paper books." Which in itself is kind of ridiculous because in my mind anyway,  a book is a book is a book (Thanks Miss Stein!), whether it's published in paper or on Kindle or Nook or papyrus or on the interior lenses of those new Do-It-All wonder glasses Google is currently perfecting--You know, the eyeglasses that will one day replace the E-Reader.

Okay, so let's, for shits and giggles, pretend that as of today, there are no more paper books. They're all gone, disappeared, library and bookstore shelves emptied of their contents. So let's take this little fantasy a step further and just for the sake of argument, let's say that Papa Hemingway is still alive and kicking at 113 years old (Not an impossible stretch considering today's abundance of centenarians and beyond...). Picture the scene: Papa comes lumbering into his writing room in the Keys (He will by now have moved back to Key West for practical and professional reasons). He's a little drunk from having downed a one too many Papa Doubles at Sloppy Joes after spending most of the day on the Gulf not fishing, but assisting with the new efforts to monitor fish populations in the wake of the 2010 BP Oil Spill.

Already he's getting hungry and smelling the wonderful dish his 7th wife Maria is cooking up in the kitchen. He wants to eat early tonight and get to bed at a decent hour so he can get up at dawn and bite the nail on his new novel which will be released not next year, but within three months of its completion as an e-book. Man, what he wouldn't give to have Max Perkins around right now, editing his work as he produces it. He recalls the days when a writer could get away with putting out one novel every five or ten years. Now he's got to put one out every six months. That's how much the reading public is devouring books these days.

Papa runs his thick hands over his beloved Remington portable, but then switches on his lap top, and waits for it to boot up. When it does he clicks onto the Amazon Sales Rank website like he always does automatically. He does this now not because he's wondering how he's performing for his publishers, but because, in this day in age, he's wondering how his publishers are performing for him. He still works with publishers, both big and small, but five or so years ago, he decided his audience was large enough that he would start his own indie label which would publish Papa books and stories exclusively. Why give the corporate bastards all the money and the rights? was his logic.

He stares at the screen, focuses on The Sun Also Rises, and feels his smile growing under his white bearded, suntanned face."Sun" is selling in the 2,000 range for Paid Kindles in the Amazon store.

"None male," he whispers in Italian to himself. "Not bad."

In fact, he goes down the list of the many novels he's published since his first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems was self-published in Paris in the early 1920s on a genuine old fashioned 19th century era printing press. All the books are ranking in the 2000 or below range, netting him a nice profit not on a semi-annual basis, but a daily basis.

He sits back in his wood and leather Cuban cigar makers chair and reflects on how much things have changed since he first started writing with pencil and paper. How the world has gone from the Carrier Pigeon in the trenches of World War I where he nearly lost his right leg, to smartphones and texts. How he used to spin ceramic disks on his phonograph but these days tunes into his own personalized Pandora digital radio now that the record stores have become more historical fact than his old neurotic buddy Scott Fitzgerald. He remembers crossing the Atlantic with his beloved Hadley on the Normandie but how he recently visited Paris via the business class of an Air France Airbus. He recalls horse drawn wagons delivering milk to his doorstep on the Left Bank and how now he can't bear milk unless it's Lactose free and bears the Whole Foods logo. He certainly recalls the days when the US Army issued cigarettes in the daily ration kits. But he was smart enough to quit that deadly habit a long time ago.

The only thing he truly misses about the past is bookstores like Shakespeare and Company. Now there was a bookstore. But then, he was never much for book signings, and he was never fond of chain bookstores especially when they wouldn't let go of the antiquated 1930s era policy of "returns" on books that didn't move within a few weeks. Then there were the bookstores, many of them independent, high school and university, who wouldn't carry his books at all because they weren't considered "politically correct." Screw 'em, he said then, and Screw 'em, he says now.

He certainly isn't crying for the major publishers who were the first to blame him when his books weren't moving and then the first to praise themselves when they did move. Now, he entertains many forms of publishing and as a result, he's got more control of his work than ever before, and having lived his life as a rugged individualist, he couldn't be happier. Sure he misses paper books, but then he loves his new Kindle Fire. He doesn't have to travel with a trunk load of heavy books anymore, and he even gets to watch The Killers on it, the one movie based on his work which he actually likes.

He gets up from his chair, takes a glance at the book shelf that now contains photos of his family. His many wives, good and bad. His sons, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren and even a great great grandchild. He smiles wryly but proudly and he misses those who have passed before him. The curse of old age. He turns to the window, and from there he can see the sea. The eternal sea. He knows that tomorrow, the sun will also rise upon it and he will bite the nail as he has always done. That is something that never changes and he is as resolute in his calling than ever before.

"Papa!" calls the voice of Maria from below. "Before it gets cold!"

He feels a start in his heart. He knows he'd better get himself to the table before she tosses the meal out the window. But at the same time, he's thinking about a certain young woman he recently met at Sloppy Joes bar. A strawberry blond, with a figure to die for and legs that go all the way up past her shoulders. What did she call herself? A professional blogger? Not a reporter, but a blogger. Oh well, time to commit that new word to memory. For Papa, words have always held a special fascination, no matter where or how they are printed or spoken. But he's made plans with this special new strawberry blond. They are about to visit the border country where Turkey meets Syria in order to write about the civil war going on there. For Papa it will be yet another war and another book, but for the blonde, it will be her first experience in Indian country. It will be a romantic time for them both. Just like it was for he and Marty Gellhorn during the Spanish Civil War. What's old will be new again and all's fair in love and war.

"But how will I break the news to Maria?" he asks himself, feeling the pangs of worry fill his considerable stomach.

Poor old Papa. Some things just never change.




  1. a wonderful read vince, with excellent points about the cyclical nature of ... everything. (and fun fact, i'm reading "the sun also rises")

    Buona scrittura!

  2. Great piece. There will always be books, only the form will change. I am sure that the advent of mass printing stirred up its share of people claiming the end of literature as they knew it. For some of us it is an exciting time to be writing.

  3. Brilliantly written. Played in my mind while I read through it. But I also realized the world today would be all wrong for Hemingway. He would be like a bull in a china shop. But I agree with the lesson. With all the options now available to writers, it puts the last fifty or so years in stark contrast. Hard to believe the crap writers had to eat in order to be read.

    1. Thank you for that Woelf. I agree with your assessment. Papa would feel out of sorts in today's publishing environment. But then again, I think he would have loved the notion of being a super independent...