Robert Kroetsch on the Future of Books


I’m running this short interview on TWR‘s front page again, the day after the sudden death of Robert Kroetsch on an Alberta highway. The words below, from an April 13 email, show why so many of us cared about him and why his death is so devastating: the future always excited him, and he was always prodding us fearlessly into that new space where anything can happen. The world is a poorer place without his presence, but I trust his spirit survives in his words and in our collective memory. — Maurice Mierau, editor, The Winnipeg Review

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

What an amazing time to be a young writer: this explosion of possibilities. But the literary novel or poem has to get off its ass. Maintaining the tradition is not enough. We learn from Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain; part of our learning is remembering how radically they were breaking new ground. At first Emily and Mark didn’t look literary; it took us a long time for us to catch on. Today, ebooks can help the reader. And the writer. The writer should make a mess of things.

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

My chance to fail again as a prophet. The flood of information occurs because we now separate information from meaaning. What a chance for writers. We can now proceed to shape all that information into new meanings.  New versions of stories, new stories, new shapes and sounds and guises of the poem.

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

As when the printing press was newly invented; changes come thick and fast, revising the idea of literacy. Consider the near-death of handwriting.

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 newdelivery media, including e-readers, iPhones etc.? What about the impact ofso-called enhanced books that include video and music?

Yes, the printing press invented the novel, so to speak. What forms will the new technologies invent? Hey, you young writers have to answer that one. Does the human voice come back into play, after its book-imposed silence? I forget the name of the saint who discovered you can read without moving your lips. Maybe he was wrong.

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

The dead tree technologies will no doubt change as we struggle to save forests (and life). For the time being paper is still a bargain. The rising cost of animal skins altered the production of medieval hand-copied books. But the shape of the page pretty much survived. What now?

One Comment

  1. Douglas Barbour
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    And now ‘we’ (especially the young writers) will have to discover all the possibilities without his wit to give them a push in the right direction(s). RIP Robert.

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Robert Kroetsch

Robert Kroetsch's latest book is Too Bad: Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait.