Hermits Rock

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Chad Harbach, forecasting the end of novels in a review of novels about the end of the world, notes that distribution is as much a part of novels’ past and current success as are the unending chains of narrative:

Novelists wanted (and want) the novel to continue to matter, in a way it maybe never did, and so the novel scaled up and globalized. In many ways the secret desire of the novelist, so dirty and so noble at the same time—the desire to “matter“—is similar to the imperial dream of Barnes & Noble, because it takes a Barnes & Noble in every shopping center to get the novelist’s novel into readers’ hands. The novelist comprehends the irresponsible, destructive, global world, and rages at it; his rage is as big as the system he wants to dismantle. To change that system he needs something that only that system can achieve—perfect distribution.

Indeed this is true of the late twentieth century novel, in which the book as object is the novel’s primary means of distribution, but the novel was born of smaller, more ephemeral matter, serialized as a way to reach more readers than were possible by bound and printed matter alone. This is not to say that magazines are the genre’s savior, but it is to note that distribution is what you make it. The character of the genre will change as its distribution changes, but most likely, the novel will live on, even into the apocalypse.