On Leaving San Francisco, and My Future in Books

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I’m moving away from San Francisco next week—a city that I have carefully wandered around in and called home for the past four years. I have never loved a city as deeply as I have loved San Francisco. I feel that I am leaving a friend behind when I think of the things I’ll miss about this place. I have walked almost every inch, and embraced the hills and fog and strange micro-climates, and have found San Francisco to be the friendliest, loveliest, and all-around brightest place I have ever lived. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been stopping by all of my favorite places, catching up with my friends, and getting in my last bits of roaming. This, of course, has included trips to all of my favorite bookstores: Booksmith, City Lights, and Green Apple. And perhaps the thing I will miss most is the profoundly dedicated literary community. It is a community that readily took me under its wing. I came here as an eager, aspiring writer to work on my MFA and I encountered such a wonderful group of writers and teachers at USF; I spent two years reading everything I could get my hands on and writing a couple of books that will never see the light of day, but helped me to figure out what kind of book I really want to write. I landed at McSweeney’s just a few weeks after settling in, where I got to help design one of the most fantastic issues of the quarterly. Over the next few years, I made my way to The Rumpus, NaNoWriMo, Chronicle Books, and USF’s English Department, and met some of the most amazing folks imaginable. But most importantly, it was in San Francisco where I finally figured out exactly how the various pieces of my academic life—philosophy, design, media, and writing—all fit together.

I’m heading off to Indiana University, in Bloomington, where I will spend the next few years working on a PhD in Communication and Culture. My specific area of interest is book technology and the future of electronic literature. I am not an especially optimistic person in general, but I do have an astonishing amount of optimism about the future of the book. Amid all the naysayers—and there are so many—I’ve grown tired of the perpetual “death of the novel” chatter. It’s been going on for so many years, and yet, I just don't see it to be true. The novel isn’t going to die, any more than radio, TV, or movies will die. It’s an integral art form, an essential part of human culture. When people lament the death of the book, what I think they are really doing is wringing their hands over the inevitability of change. What we should be asking is how will the shape and content of the novel evolve? What different roles will books come to play in our lives? How will modes of publishing  change the way we buy, sell, and distribute books? How will writers make money? What can digital forms of publishing do that print cannot? What can print do that digital cannot? The answers to these questions, and many more, is exactly what I hope to spend my career exploring. In the past 200-hundred years, the novel has gone through many dramatic shifts, in style, content, production, and cultural significance. It will keep changing, just like it, and everything else, always has. Books, now more than ever, are one of the most fascinating pieces of technology we have.

So, as I leave behind this beautiful, vibrant city—a city that embraces both literature and technology—I am excited to dive deeper into the book world. The future will become even busier, faster, and more overwhelming. Technology will dominate our lives in more ways than we can know, and an abundance of content will consume us. But this doesn't worry me. I believe in some quiet future, where people still sit in a comfy chair with a book in their lap and silently enjoy the words before them. Amidst the noise, we will still make time for a good story. We will still retreat into made-up worlds. We will still connect to fictional characters, and find comfort in worlds that are not our own. This will never change.