Granta’s new editor is like a five legged man at an ass kicking contest in an article at the Independent, saying print’s not dead yet, despite the best efforts of the Canadian government. (Give him a crowbar and he’s nearly Gordon Freeman. If you got that joke, I have only one thing to say to you: NEERRD! Actually, two things: how about some 1v1 HL2DM, CAL rules, bunny hopping and grav-nading allowed?)
Bad things happen up north in the winter, when no one is looking. Like last February, when Canada’s heritage minister James Moore gave a speech which poorly disguised the fact that his office was effectively preparing to clear-cut many Canadian journals. Under his directive a literary journal in Canada must now sell at least 5,000 copies each year to be eligible for government assistance. This may seem like an abstruse piece of bookish trivia, until one remembers that most journals are lucky to reach half that number of readers, and that this radical cutback in funding is happening in a country whose tiny journals supported the early work of Michael Ondaatje, Anne Michaels, and Alice Munro, let alone talented newcomers such as Pasha Malla.
But it’s not just Canada leading this retreat. Fearful capitulation has been the norm in so much English-language literary publishing over the last four years. Newspapers in the US and England have slashed book review supplements, and watched dumbfounded as readers upchucked their subscriptions.
Publishers are still buying multi-million celebrity “books” but grow antsy when it comes to signing up literary writers, the type whose fourth or fifth book (such as Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland) might someday underwrite an entire season. It’s always the end times in publishing, sure, but due to the anxiety over new technology and the comeuppance created by far too much corporate merging these are especially dour ones.
Yet it’s a great time for literary journals. Even though the word “novel” means new, the strictures of the market mean that a book cannot be too new, since something truly new will not be instantly embraced. Publishers keep hoping that will happen nonetheless.