Another supposed nail in contemporary literature's coffin gets hammered down firmly.
Maybe I'm stubbornly in denial, but the slow demise of glossy paper book-review-magazines like the Washington Post Book World is just part (a small, small part) of the much larger and admittedly painful and nostalgia-inducing technological re-configuration of media currently underway, which is itself a small part of the staggering transformation of the global economy. In ten years it might well seem incredible that newspapers were ever printed on real paper and delivered to houses using vehicles that burned fossil fuels. I don't think the current technological clusterfuck extends to the book itself, though, because the book is already a perfect technology. Technology exists to make things better, faster, easier. There's nothing to improve about the book. It's done. It's there. And it was already there before your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was born.
Many are loudly fretting about the future of reading and writing. Yet it seems to me that people are reading (online news, blogs) and writing (email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, chats) more than ever. I mean, 40-50 years ago, during this alleged Golden Age, even the men who went to college couldn't type -- they actually had secretaries to input whatever they muttered around fragrant pipe stems as they ogled the secretaries. My grandfather couldn't type. Sure, he had beautiful handwriting, and I treasure his letters -- but there aren't very many of them, and in truth, he was not a great writer. He sure didn't sit around writing constant messages to various people and departments all day long like we all do now.
I don't think books are going to go under, but they will probably become more divorced from other media -- movies, TV, music, and the Web are taking off together on a rocket ship to God knows where, and yes, tossing out important-looking ballast, but the book is standing alongside us waving with the same slightly unsettled look on its face that we have. It's just a fact that people don't want to read long stretches of text on a computer (now whether they'll keep wanting to at all -- I grant you, that's a deeper, more horrifying question). Books, which have survived every other technological advance in the past 600 years, will I believe undergo a strong, enduring revival as chic and retro cool -- a no-batteries-or-overnight-charging-or-wifi-hotspot-required holiday of comforting authenticity away from the ever-enlarging infotainment electro-glut convergence. The book is well entrenched and loved. It isn't going anywhere or likely to change one iota, because there aren't any problems with it to solve.
It's the passing of an era. I don't think I ever read the Washington Post Book World, not even once. It's sad that bookish, intelligent people will lose those jobs, but I think they will find other jobs, hopefully with outfits that aren't trapped in suddenly outdated economic models. If I want to research what books to read, I talk to people whose opinions I respect and/or go online where there are scads of book reviewers -- not to one specific printed newspaper insert -- and since December I do it on my damned phone. Doesn't even the whole idea of newspapers themselves already seem kind of quaint and 50s-ish -- never mind what kinds of insert sections they had/have? I'm sure people mourned the passing of the mimeograph, and the telegraph, and hand-set typography, and even all those beautiful handwritten works when the printing press came along. Then they got over it.
Books are not part of this. They are different. Call it a hunch (or denial).