This past Sunday, the New York Times published a front-page story on the Japanese cellphone novel (just in case you missed it in the Wall Street Journal last September and Wired back in 2005.) Now it’s officially news. The Japanese are not just reading but writing books on their handsets, and these works are getting so popular that they are being published in hardcover and made into movies.
What is most interesting about the mobile novel is the mobile novelist: young Japanese non-writers. According to the Times piece:
“It’s not that they had a desire to write and that the cellphone happened to be there.”… “Instead, in the course of exchanging e-mail, this tool called the cellphone instilled in them a desire to write.”
“Written in the first person, many cellphone novels read like diaries.”
If you look at cell phones as tiny computers, these novels simply grew out of blogging. A similar trend happened here a few years ago with the advent of the blog novel (2004 saw book deals for bloggers from Gawker, Hit & Run, The Black Table, Dong Resin, Zulkey, Low Culture, Lindsayism, Megnut, Maud Newton, MemeFirst, Old Hag, PressThink, I Keep a Diary, Buzz Machine, Engadget, and Eurotrash). But whereas we just “microblog” from our phones (i.e., send Twitters, Dodgeball check-ins…), Asian youth are tapping out tomes. This makes sense, given that cell phones are the first screen for many young people in Asia, having bypassed the PC altogether due to cost and convenience.
The trend is so huge—the top three bestsellers in Japan last month were originally written on cell phones—that some are worried it will denigrate literature. But these books–with their flat characters, clipped prose and melodramatic plotlines–seem to have more in common with manga than Murasaki, and can thus be viewed as a genre unto themselves.
They are certainly a phenomenon, sending youth literacy on the rise Harry Potter-style. Often for both writer and reader, it’s their first novel. And just as stories are being composed on cell phones, that is where they are being read.
This makes us wonder whether Amazon’s Kindle will lead to such a surge in reading among youth? Probably not—like the iPhone the price point is too high at $399. But doubtless in the future e-books will be accessible and commonly read on cell phones (or how about ebook readers that let you make calls?). Let’s just hope we have more than snack-size pulp to read.
via New York Times