Debate: The Joy of Literature

20 08 2011

Joseph Brooker and Ray Ryan
Mid-afternoon and I fond myself in Peppers Theatre for a discussion between a Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman. No joke, and nor was the discussion.

The event had been billed especially for bibliophiles, in which Brooker’s analysis of British literature since the 1980s in a collection of essays called The Good of the Novel, co-edited by Ray Ryan, which “brings together some of the most strenuous and perceptive critics of the present moment, and puts them in contact with some of the finest novels of the past three decades.”

Chaired by the literary editor of The Scotsman, Stuart Kelly, we had the potential for a really interesting discussion. Brooker and Ryan provided a new angle on publishing, with the latter relating how “each novel sets its own constitution; the truth of fiction cannot be rendered in any other form.”

Ryan remains convinced that “small presses take chances on making reputations of authors whereas large ones are more cautious,” and I have to agree with him. In my experience this has been important in opening the door  to the proliferation of self-publishing.

On the question as to whether Shakespeare is a great writer, Brooker argued that “It’s far too early to say—maybe in another 400 years or so but how are we supposed to guess that now?” And bringing the discussion back (or forward) to the 21st century and the introduction of e-readers, Ryan commented that he was “amazed that these things still only display mainly text, and that even in the 21st century with all the technology available to use, people who use them still only want them for that sole reason.”

As for hyperlinks within text to websites and informative articles, “these things are a distraction,” says Ryan. “But for the publisher and critic alike,” explained Brooker, “they mean much more work!”

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