From the New York Times opinion page:
Toni Morrison, dead this week at 88, was a great American novelist who was also a Great American Novelist. This means she had a special form of celebrity, an oracular status, and also that she was embraced by the tradition that regards novels as keys to interpreting America — insisting that you must read Morrison (and Ellison and Wright and Hurston) to understand the black experience, just as you must read Hawthorne and Melville to understand the legacy of Puritanism, or Faulkner or Cather to understand the South or West, and so on down the high-school English list.
So her passing raises the question: Is she the last of the species? The last American novelist who made novels seem essential to an educated person’s understanding of her country? …
But something has changed in the cultural status of the novel in the time I’ve been a reader, the years between Morrison’s canonization and her passing — and maybe especially the years since social media and the iPhone first arrived. …
But in my own life it’s the internet that’s killing novel-reading. And specifically the social media/iPhone combination, whose distracting effect is the enemy of the novel more than of other forms of art.
Well said, but another aspect is the rise of video games uses up an enormous number of male hours, so fewer males are reading books, so the publishing industry is signing fewer male writers, and the publishing industry itself is becoming more and more female.
You might think that the increasing feminization of fiction wouldn’t necessarily undermine the importance and relevance of literature. But it does. Basically, most of the interesting artistic accomplishments of, say, the last 600 years have been the work of today’s bete noire: white males.
Much as everybody would like that not to be true for the next 600 years, we don’t have much evidence that such a change will actually happen.