Will Cell Phone Novels Kill The Author?

January 20th, 2008 at 11:47 pm

Will cell phone novels kill “the author?” That’s what a famous Japanese literary journal asked on its January cover in response to the increasing popularity of novels written and viewed on cell phones as well as published in traditional hardcover books.

Cell phone novels are a bizarre splinter genre that have been flirting with the market in Japan for some time now.

It’s a thoroughly fascinating emergence and convergence of art, technology, and culture with the usual trappings and conflict between traditionalists and modernists.

As one cell phone novelist explains, “They [cell phone novel readers] don’t read works by professional writers because their sentences
are too difficult to understand, their expressions are intentionally
wordy, and the stories are not familiar to them. On other
hand, I understand how older Japanese don’t want to recognize these [cell phone novels] as
novels. The paragraphs and the sentences are too simple, the stories
are too predictable. But I’d like cellphone novels to be recognized as
a genre.”

In Japan, of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cell phone novels. It’s a genre that has gained popularity in a youth culture raised with cell phones and reading manga and comic books. Critics, however, complain that such dominance of poor literary quality is spelling the doom of Japanese literature.

Of course. You’ll have to forgive Young Pioneers for rejecting society’s norms and traditions in order to invent things like computers, airplanes, and the printing press. The march of progress is a bloody, treacherous fight and this one will be no different.

Literary merit is no insignificant matter. We should be glad Japanese kids are reading, but for good or bad, what they are reading should also be taken into consideration. Working at a bookstore when I did, I was constantly disappointed to watch every middle-aged house wife in America march in to purchase a trashy romance novel and a diet book. There are a lot of good books out there, so we should probably be as equally disappointed in the Japanese youth for settling with inferior, undeveloped cell phone novels.

Will such a sub-genre emerge in America? I doubt it. But if it did, it would certainly threaten the already weak e-book market. I am personally not very eager to read an entire novel on a cell phone, but I’m sure there is an whole generation of tweens behind me salivating for a nice, mediocre, easy-to-read, easy-to-follow cell phone novel.

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2 Responses to “Will Cell Phone Novels Kill The Author?”

  1. Wet with morning dew,
    I go in the direction I want.
    (Santoka, trans. Stevens)

    Perhaps, cell-phone haiku
    will call both tradition
    and youth.

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