By Mark Munger
(c) Mark Munger 2010
I love Garrison. I’ve even met Garrison. Once. I remember the occasion. He likely does not. I’ve seen “A Prairie Home Companion” live and caught Garrison at the Big Top in Bayfield as well. And I read his column whenever the Duluth News Tribune allots space to his words. Generally, I agree with Minnesota’s Man of Letters when it comes to politics and American culture. But not this time.
Garrison’s recent essay, “The end of an era in publishing” (DNT 5/27/10) is right in one respect: Publishing is undergoing a major transition. Ink on paper, the mechanism used by human beings to educate and communicate for thousands of years, is in trouble. Just ask my twelve year old son, Jack. Or my eldest son, Matt. The two bookends (neat word in this context, don’t you think?) in my family of four sons are so tied to digital media, it takes a power outage of mammoth proportions to get them interested in reading anything not conveyed to them in ones and zeroes. My two middle sons, Chris and Dylan, still read. Books. Magazines. The newspaper. The “real” newspaper. You know, the one you buy at the corner store, stuff in the back pocket of your jeans, and unroll at the table while you slurp corn flakes. I guess my wife René and I are 50-50 in the literacy department with respect to our kids. But batting .500, while great if you’re Joe Mauer, doesn’t bode well for traditional publishing. On this point, Garrison and I agree.
But I disagree with Garrison’s premise that all is lost, that folks who read two or three books a week and who, on occasion, even write their own stories, are witnessing the literary equivalent of the demise of the passenger pigeon. Yes, more and more authors (this one included) are turning to the oft-despised and frequently dismissed vehicle of self-publication to cast words into the marketplace of ideas. But I don’t agree that the explosion of self-published books is necessarily a sign of literary Armageddon.
To say that the “old way” of doing business (where a writer sends his work to a New York literary agent and the agent forwards the work to a publisher, where, hopefully, the work is accepted, published, and sold in brick and mortar bookstores) is the only way, or the best way, or the most respected way of getting published is simply wrong. And to lament the usurping of print media by the Internet, Kindle, and the like is to ignore the reality of our own children. They have been steeped in the digital revolution. Much as Garrison and I might like to turn back the clock, it ain’t gonna happen.
So what then are book lovers, those of us old enough to remember three television stations broadcasting in Duluth, no cable, no computers, no Internet, no Kindle to think about the changes happening to our beloved books, magazines, and newspapers?
How about this, Garrison? How about, instead of taking a shot at those of us who write but who can’t find a snooty agent to give us the time of day, that maybe, just maybe, you read some of our work? Ya. That’s it. Go on Amazon. Or stop in at a Barnes and Noble. Or visit Northern Lights Books and Gifts or the Bookstore at Fitger’s next time you’re doing a show in Duluth.
Or better yet, traipse on down to that quaint basement bookstore you own on Crocus Hill in St. Paul and pick up a copy of any of the self-published books for sale there. Read that book, not with an eye to finding typos, but with an eye towards answering this question: “Is there some value in what this person wrote?” I think, Garrison, you’ll come to the conclusion that there is, and that self-published books don’t signal the end of literature, but a new beginning.
Mark Munger is a life-long Duluthian and the author of eight books, including, Suomalaiset: People of the Marsh, an acclaimed historical novel set in Duluth, and Mr. Environment: The Willard Munger Story, a biography of State Rep. Willard Munger. Mark’s books are available through most major retailers or online. Follow his blog at: www.cloquetrierpress.com. (This article originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune (slightly edited) on June 3, 2010).