Margaret Sweatman on the Future of Books


Margaret Sweatman responded to TWR‘s questions by email on April 13.

1) We all know that Dan Brown and his ilk can sell product in any form, e-book, p-book or otherwise. But what do you think will be the impact of e-books on literary publishing in the near term?

I think that “literary” publishing will become evermore ephemeral, and as this occurs, writers will have ever-less knowledge and understanding of what readers are thinking when they try to read our books.  A book objectifies our work, and without that objectification, that process of alterity, we’re basically screwed; it leaves us nowhere.  But then — see even further below, I’ve never read an ebook.

2)  How will your role as a writer change as a result of the increasing adoption of ebooks and ezines?

I don’t know about ebooks.  I’m so tired of looking at computer screens, I just can’t imagine wanting one.  But I’m probably wrong about this, very wrong.  Of ezines though: I find that students, young, unpublished writers and new readers, have little understanding of a formal quality in writing when they’ve only encountered poetry on line.  Oddly, the computer’s presentation of poetry makes them deaf.  And blind.  They have no depth perception; they can’t hear counterpoint, inner voicings, cadence.

3)  Do you use or have you tried using an e-reader? What is your impression of them?

Nope.  Not yet.  One of my brothers likes it very much for travel.  I’ll buy one eventually I guess.  I’ve got so many books I have to read.  I’m tired of packing books, and the trees are unhappy about paper, so this may very well be a good thing.

4)  How do you think the McLuhanism that equates medium with message will apply to e-books? That is, will artistic forms such as the novel, the short story, and the poem actually change because of the new delivery media, including e-readers, iPhones etc.? What about the impact of so-called enhanced books that include video and music?

Yes, this is a major change.  I think that the novel has become almost an irrelevant genre.  People don’t take the time to inhale a novel, they don’t take the time to read that long form, and life is so fictional now, they don’t understand the importance of real fiction.

5)  In what ways will paper books change in the next few years because of ebooks?

I think that we’re back to marginalia, to embossed and illustrated work that eliminates most original work in favour of elaborations on existing artifacts.  The Artist really has gone the way of the Dodo and God.  Yet — yet!, I rather often work with young people who are in love with what they’ve put on a page.  That excitement persists, that self-love generated by writing.  I just wish they’d read as fervently as they scribble.

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Margaret Sweatman

Margaret Sweatman's most recent book is the novel The Players (Goose Lane). She teaches creative writing at the University of Winnipeg.