Sunday, February 05, 2006

Print or electronic?

Another article in the aforementioned Times Books (Sat 4 Feb) was by Jeannette Winterson, who writes a regular column. I don't like Winterson's books because I don't "get" them and feel intimidated by them. "Oranges are not the only fruit" was muddled and confused, I thought -- or at least, I was, by the time I had struggled through to the end. I have tried a couple of others as people do rave about her, but I have not made it to the end of any of them. I can't work out whether her books are pseudy (the science-related ones certainly seem to be, using the terminology of science and its concepts for superficial effect, rather than using them to try to say something, as Ian McEwan does for example ), or if it is just me being stupid. I also don't like her columns very much, as they usually seem to be about casting herself in some favourable light. So I have stopped reading her. However, the header on today's article stated "Let's stop publishing books that don't really need to be books", so naturally I read it. Turned out that she thinks "People who don't really read don't really need books -- so let them have Jordan and Becks in lots of other ways" -- audio, animated audio etc. (See what I mean about Winterton's incredibly snobbish and elitist position? She doesn't even consider that these books top the UK best-seller lists, so there is a demonstrable demand for them in the print medium. But this fact does not fit Winterson's cultural prejudices, so she ignores it. ) Interestingly, she cites the scientist Susan Greenfield in support of her view -- SG does not seem to have directly endorsed it but to have written something that Winterson thinks can be used to support her (Winterson's) argument. Greenfield herself is not a "scientists' scientist", and in any event I feel sure Winterson is giving one throw-away comment undue weight. Winterson's basic point is that mass literacy did not occur until the 19th century, so "the way we read now has not been around for long and may not be the way forward". She thinks that celebrity books and academic research papers should be published online, and "proper" books in print. Her argument goes "The push from government for academics to go on producting pointless (!!!) research year in year out, whether or not to stay, has led to the present university library explosion. There is simply nowhere to put this stuff." On thinking about it, I think I'll just categorise Jeannette Winterson with Julie Burchill, who (probably non-coincidentally) sometimes has a column in the same slot. There is a class of columnists who are long on opinion and bigotry, but short on facts or research, yet who sell newspapers becuase they create a lot of (empty) controversy. DBR (don't bother reading). I love a bit of heated debate, but not when it is based on ignorance (and pride in ignorance). There is certainly plenty to be said about online publication of academic material, and plenty of interesting, informed, disparate and passionate views on the subject are easy to find. I would not say on the basis of her Times column that Jeanette Winterson is a source of useful information on the topic.