So, earlier this week, in the run-up to the Super Bowl, NPR.org ran a story on the "Epoch of Peripheralism" that we live in. With a headlining picture of Justin Bieber and Ozzy Osbourne in (what look like) Tron suits, they brought to the fore the idea that in an environment of social media and instant gratification, the importance of the Event has been lost:
"More and more it seems that we are caught up not so much in the event itself – the football game or the president's speech – but in the events around the event. The sideshows. The marginalia.
We focus on the peripherals: the sprinkles, not the ice cream; the moons, not Saturn; the sauces, not the barbecue.
In Shakespeare's day, the play was the thing. Today the play, it seems, it just one of the things."
They continue the story with a discussion of the halftime shows and commercials and players' personal stories at the Super Bowl, on how the future of big movies might like more in 90 second trailers than 100 minute films, and how Presidential speeches have value not in their content, but in the peripheral speeches surrounding them.
I recognize this feeling; I am not innocent of preferring the memory of a long-awaited concert to the concert itself (I even find myself bored in the middle of Events I've been anticipating, even when I recognize that I am enjoying it). With television, I like reading the spoiler news before shows, and I half-ruined the twist to Rory's fate in Doctor Who Season 5 by flipping through the IMDb cast listings ahead of time.
The more I get into the online culture of YA literature, both from a writing and a reading perspective, the more I wonder how this bleeds into the culture. I haven't been on board with the fandom of a major series DURING its release (HP I anticipated privately, or in small groups of friends; Hunger Games was all released before I got to the first one), but as I have been watching 2011 debuts appear, and have seen the hype surrounding some of them, I have started to think about how they fit into the Epoch of Peripherals.
Are readers more interested in the ARC contests, in the cover unveilings, in the pre-released snippets and author interviews than they are in the eventual product? That is, after all, the trajectory NPR has noticed in football and film, and those events are not rare in the YA (and lit in general) online world. It could be the case.
But I don't think so.
I don't think so, because there is something about reading, about the PROCESS and the TIME and the joy of immersing one's self in a new world that separates the experience of reading from the experience of any other type of Event, and no matter how much outside, peripheral stuff crops up in the age of social networking and obsession of immediacy, that can only ADD to the private experience of enjoying a story.
Because in all the reviews of yet-to-be-released covers, in all the early reviews, in all the author interviews, the result from the internet hive is always the same: Yes, but when can we READ the BOOK?
Because that's the thing: Shakespeare's play is still the thing. Everything else is just sprinkles.
Way to be, books. I knew I loved you for a reason.