The view from Ubud
(Dispatch number 2 from Ubud, Bali, by Robin Hamley, um, Hemley)
I had been slightly dreading my first panel of the day at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, "State of the Union," in which we were going to discuss "the shifting preoccupations of literature, society, and politics in Obama's America."
As I've spent most of the last two years outside of the U.S., first in the Philippines and then in Southern , France, I didn't feel especially qualified. My other panelists seemed much more so, among them Los Angeles-based novelist and short story writer, Lisa Teasley, novelist and painter Rabih Alameddine, who splits his time between San Francisco and Lebanon, and Mike Otterman, a young New York writer who's written two books on torture and Iraq.
Not that I wanted to avoid controversy, I just wasn't sure I could comment on or had even noticed the "shifting preoccupations" in the U.S. After all, the U.S. is huge. Over 300,000 books are published annually in a traditional format, and when you count non-traditional forms, which are way up (Ebooks, self-published books, and print-on-demand), the number soars to over a million titles a year. But there are undoubtedly shifts that concern me, none more than the decline of fiction in the U.S. According to Bowker, approximately 53,000 fiction titles were published traditionally in the U.S. in 2008, while only 45,000 were published in 2009. That's nearly a 20% decline in a year. What does this say about Obama?
Well, I think the statistics are clear on this matter. Obama opposes the novel and short story. And is out to destroy our literary way of life. The fact that he was seen carrying Jonathan Franzen's new novel around recently simply shows what a clever politician he is. By reading a popular work of fiction he thinks he can avoid responsibility for the decline of the novel and blame it on his on his predecessor (well known for his love of fictions). But it won't work, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama. We know you've written a memoir. This is where your loyalties lie.
I had planned to expose Mr. Obama for the literary hypocrite he is, but my fellow panelists had other ideas. The panel was slightly unfocused until the late arrival of a fellow panelist, a young American journalist whom I had not previously met. The panel was galvanized when he told the audience that "the Muslim world needs to