Commentary: Literature in the age of e-books

When I interviewed Mario Vargas Llosa a few days ago on the occasion of his well-deserved and long overdue Nobel Prize in literature, one of the things that most caught my attention was his opinion about electronic books.

He made no secret about his anxiety over the future of literature in the age of the e-book.

Earlier this year, Amazon.com -- one of the largest U.S. book sellers -- announced that it is already selling more e-books than hardcover books. Overall, the number of e-books sold in the United States this year is projected to reach 100 million, up from 30 million sold last year, according to the Forrester research firm.

Does this make you nervous? I asked Vargas Llosa. The Peruvian author, who is the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in literature in the past 20 years, responded that ``Electronic books are a reality that is already here, and that I think is unstoppable. It's a book that will make many things easier. We will be able travel with a whole library in our pocket, for instance,'' he said.

But, on the down side, ``it could bring along an impoverishment of literary quality,'' he said.

``There is always the risk that literature that is written for the screen will be more prone to triviality, banality, to a deterioration of intellectual activity.''

Asked to elaborate, he said that ``it's something that has already happened with television. Television is, on one hand, an extraordinary source of information. But in general, the products created for television are very trivial, banal, compared to creative products that end up in books.''

He added, ``I think that this is something that we should guard against, in order to make sure that the electronic book maintains [the quality] of literature and its greatest and most creative achievements.''

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