According to an an article today in the Times, "of the last ten bestselling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging." Most of these were composed by young women on the subways on their way to work. Of course I'm curious to read one, but of course it's in Japanese, and it would no doubt be untranslatable even if someone were willing to try. What's Japanese for 'LOL' and 'OMFG?'
Of course the chorus of worrying has kicked in. "'Will cellphone novels kill "the author?"'" (that's triple-embedded quotes, and I'm doing this on my Treo!) says a Japanese literary magazine. Needless to say, we've been here before. The first generation of novels, which were widely proclaimed to be the death of literature, were written for, and often by, young women. They were, of course, mostly love stories written in the 'epistolary' style, that is, in the form of the popular style of textual communication at the time.
So will we have a Pride and Prejudice or Tristram Shandy of the cellphone novel that will ‘save’ the genre? Well, historical parallels are not usually that neat. But I think it’s good news to see new shoots sprouting off the great trunk of the long-fiction genre, regardless of the form. Especially when arrogant pricks like Steve Jobs announce that no one reads anymore.
Texting may not seem like fertile grounds for literature to many of us. But whatever form it takes, people are still writing, and people are reading. Let’s not give up hope here.