Usually, literary alarmism (“Sales are down, authors are despondent …”) is earnest and idealistic; even when it’s fueled by rage, it shakes off the world-weary self-recognition that accompanies most cliches. Which is why today’s article in the Guardian, first sounding the alarms (“Sales are down, authors are despondent …”) and then chiding us for hearing them ( “… salons are closing and literary lunches have become drab affairs.”), seems not just unfair but hostile.
But, if the article’s opening paragraphs betray hostility towards the conventions of the literary alarmist piece (and, by extension, those who read them too acceptingly), the article’s closing — ostensibly about Penguin’s new mass-market format — reads as an example of codgery “back in my day” conservatism:
The innovation [ed. -- meaning, Penguin's new format] will also come as a relief to those authors who may have mistakenly felt that people were not buying their books because of something they had written.
Rather than being concerned about such old-fashioned literary gimmicks as plot, character and the careful choice of appropriate language, they must now recognised [sic] that the key to successful writing is to change the font size setting on their computer and to invest in some heavyweight paper at the stationers.
Riiiight. And every time Chip Kidd designs a cover, you know the editor’s given up on content. Good books, in fact, are only printed on dot matrix printers; bound with silver duct tape; and — just in case superficial readers still aren’t deterred — doused in spaghetti sauce and water.