- Making Literature Now by Amy Hungerford
Making literature in the twenty-first century is very different than making literature in the twentieth-century. Some of the differences can be traced back to changes in the book industry that began in the previous century when the neoliberal economic policies of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Britain in the 1980s spurred an increase in mergers and acquisitions of book publishers. Whereas in the 1960s, there were 183 mergers or acquisitions of book publishers, and, in the 1970s, there were 177, the uptick in the 1980s to 213 was only a portent of the 516 mergers or acquisitions in the 1990s that fundamentally changed the business of books—and by extension, the making of contemporary literature.
The second-wave neoliberal-nineties of Bill Clinton's market globalism in the [End Page 387] US and Tony Blair's Third Way in the UK carried over into the new millennium, and infamously burst when the stock market crashed in 2008. By this time, the corporate book industry was one where twelve publishers out of approximately 85,000 accounted for almost two-thirds of US trade and mass market book sales; where 90 percent of active publishers accounted for less than 10 percent of total book sales; and where Random House alone accounted for over 13 percent of all US book sales, a figure that put just this one company's total book sales as exceeding the book sales of more than 76,000 US trade and mass market publishers combined.
But if economic changes in the book industry were the only ones that differentiated the making of twenty-first century from twentieth-century literature, the story of making literature now would be a fairly easy one to calculate or tell. Unfortunately, however, they are not. The story of making literature in the twenty-first century has been further complicated by the dawn of the ebook age and the advent of digital publishing software. The former should be dated back to 2007, when Amazon released its first Kindle Readers. It was also the same year that the amazing Espresso Book Machine was introduced at BookExpo America, a machine that allowed individuals to "print out" fully bound books—a technology that was only possible through advances in digital publishing software.
Amidst all of this new technology of book production, reproduction, and distribution arose a new revolution in publishing: the self-publishing revolution. Whereas in 2007 there were about 75,000 self-published titles, by 2015 (and the latest data currently available), this number has risen to 727,125 self-published titles produced in just one year. In short, a combination of technological and economic changes has fundamentally altered—if not "revolutionized"—the way books are produced, reproduced, and distributed. To be sure, the twenty-first century is an exciting time to take up the question of how literature is made now, especially since more literature is published annually today than at any other point in book history.
Amy Hungerford's Making Literature Now offers an "intriguing" approach to the contemporary outpouring of literature today. "Intriguing" because Hungerford sees the "social" world and "making" of contemporary literature in a theoretically unique and daunting way albeit one that affords the technological advances and economic factors a more significant role in the making of literature than more traditional accounts of contemporary literature.
Drawing upon the sociology of Bruno Latour, Hungerford believes that
social connections only deserve the name when they are acted upon, that the social only exists at all when its networks are activated, and what's more, the social actors come in both human and nonhuman forms. Our connections to other people only constitute social organization when we, or nonhuman actors like books, apps, or delivery truck routes, act to change or shape the arrangements [End Page 388] in which we live—be they material, cultural, environmental, geographic, psychic, intellectual.(4)
She acknowledges though that this method of inquiry can be "daunting and tedious and threaten to devolve into what one colleague called 'a...