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The modern audience – have we lost our patience?

I am sitting at the most comfortable spot in our sofa, playing with Bolano’s 2666 in my hands. It was a birthday gift from six months ago and I still haven’t got to it. I want to read it, oh! I have wanted to read it for so long – but I am thinking of all the other smaller books I would be giving up while I tackle this 900 page tome – Almost without thinking, I pick up my laptop and skit over to some book reviews to justify the time I will be spending. I come across this at Amazon:

“Definitely written for a modern audience, as, unlike past authors, Bolano doesn’t stretch anything beyond necessity, doesn’t linger on any side story unless it’s something the reader will inevitably feel to be vital. He keeps up a swift pace.”

My mind digresses. What is a modern audience?

The reviewer hints at impatience; we are people who need swift pace. Have we, the general reading population, collectively lost the ability to appreciate a lyrical, measured book that does not succumb to the pressures of being a page-turner?

I think back to the last “slow” book I read – I can’t really remember any. Goa Xingjian’s Soul Mountain – the book that won him the Nobel Prize in 2000 – comes to mind as the last slow book I attempted. But, as much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t really get through it. Speaking of books we abandon, check out Sonya Chung’s essay over at the Millions. Interesting topic, I will dwell on it another day.

But then, pace is subjective. Many of my favourite authors – Lessing, Hesse, Camus – they are not famous for their scorching pace. I would, any day, pick Jhumpa Lahiri over Dan Brown. But then, I finished Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music not because I couldn’t put it down, but because I resolved not to. I guess I don’t really have as much patience as I would like to believe that I have.

Have we changed? Were the audiences of yore particularly patient? Or was it just a result of lack of alternatives – less books to turn to, less distractions of technology? Or did they truly have a better appreciation for the finer aspects of a well-cooked, well-crafted, albeit slower paced, book? Are we – the modern audience – giving up all other qualities of a book in pursuit of just the dimension of pace?

Is the abundance of choice really a detriment to the overall development of literary quality? I hope not, but I can’t help but wonder.

Posted in Books, Musings on June 3, 2010

2 Responses

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  1. venkat says

    hehe..2666 is on my list too, staring at me from the bookshelf. Been reading some David Mitchell/John Banville lately.

  2. Jun says

    the relative pace of today’s modern society doesn’t allow for much introspection and reflection. The frenetic pace of distraction, deception, and deviations of plot is what I might find in an entertaining book. But it has no lasting worth. I do not think or marvel about the DaVinci Code months or years after i have read it, though i was possessed to finish it in one sitting. Other times i struggle and fight through a piece because I am compelled by a desire to be intimate with a writer who also desire to be intimate with his audience. There is no greater joy for me to discover that some of my most private thoughts were intimately known by a writer long ago. A bond is born of turning, reading, understanding, reflecting, then turning another page.

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