The future of the novel, and Books to Die For

Reporting from the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the BBC’s Arts Editor, Will Gompertz, looks at the future of the novel.

He asks if the novel is still the best way to tell stories in the 21st century. Unsurprisingly, novelists say yes. Ben Okri talks about the novel’s adaptability and how it has become deeply ingrained in the human psyche.

Gompertz has some interesting statistics on book sales. And he asks how writers will be able to make a living in a world of megabestsellers, risk averse publishers, and digital books. But a “threat” he discusses with novelist Ewan Morrison strikes a false note with me:

Gompertz: And then there is the issue of readers becoming authors, most dramatically illustrated by the extrordinary success of EL James’s 50 Shades of Grey, a book that started life at a website for amateur writers responding to their favorite novels.

Morrison: What happens when the reader becomes a writer is you end up with an entire industry that’s based on what fans like already. We’re not having any new ideas, generating any new content. And that was really what we needed novelists to do in the first place.

I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense.

The idea that enthusiastic readers are a threat to books is self-evidently absurd. I mean, stop and think about that for a moment. And the idea that readers and writers are separate species who can never intermix is equally ridiculous. “Readers becoming writers” doesn’t threaten books. There’s no line readers are forbidden to cross. No law prevents them from inventing stories of their own — much less from wanting to read stories they like. Readers don’t have to stay passive consumers of story forever. To say otherwise is soundbite snobbery and intellectually risible.

After all, every writer started as a lover of stories. We started even before we could read, listening to bedtime stories.

As if to disprove Morrison’s point, the BBC report ends with a glimpse of Books to Die For. This new anthology features “personal essays from 120 of the world’s most beloved and renowned crime writers on the mysteries and thrillers that they most admire.”

It’s edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke. “Each author pays a deeply personal tribute to one mystery that means the most to them, explaining why that book affects them and how it has influenced their own work.”


I’m one of the contributors to the anthology. I wrote about Sue Grafton, whose Kinsey Millhone series got me reading mysteries, and helped convince me that I should try my hand at crime fiction. Because I like it.

(And yeah: BBC News. Woo!)

3 responses to “The future of the novel, and Books to Die For

    • Thanks, Katherine.

      Everybody else: Katherine’s also a contributor to Books to Die For. So take a look at the book and at Katherine’s own novels, which are set in Sydney.

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