This piece from Slate.com seems a custom followup to yesterday’s article about Majorie Garber’s new book, but as far as I can tell they are not related.
Here, Bill James asks why the London of 400 years ago gave us Shakespeare and Marlowe and Jonson, but the Topeka, Kansas of today (a city of roughly the same population) doesn’t see to be churning out the literary masters at the same rate. He says that Shakespeare’s London fit one of two categories – either it was an act of God, a random clustering of what turned out to be a very unusual amount of talent….or else you take the position that talent is everywhere, and it has more to do with what your environment does to foster that talent.
James chooses B, and goes on to argue that we don’t develop great writers in America – we develop sports heroes. But honestly, after a paragraph like the following I’m honestly not sure if he’s pulling our leg a little bit:
We are not so good at developing great writers, it is true, but why is this? It is simply because we don’t need them. We still have Shakespeare. We still have Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson; their books are still around. We don’t genuinely need more literary geniuses. One can only read so many books in a lifetime. We need new athletes all the time because we need new games every day—fudging just a little on the definition of the word need. We like to have new games every day, and, if we are to have a constant and endless flow of games, we need a constant flow of athletes. We have gotten to be very, very good at developing the same.
I’m going to assume he’s joking. I don’t even know how to respond to something like “one can only read so many books in a lifetime.” Maybe if one spent less time watching “new games every day” one might have more time?
What do you think? Is he serious? He’s playing it awfully straight if he is.