I’m around 25% of the way through possibly the most poorly written novel I’ve ever read. I was off on a short break and was seeking Kindle-based reading matter; this particular story cost me less than £2 to download. I know, I know, that should have been a clue. But it had a ton of 5-star reviews, so even though it hadn’t been recommended by anybody I know (that’s my usual lead-in to a new author) I figured it was worth a look.
It started well, but as I read, my astonishment grew. How come there were so many solid 5-star reviews praising the quality of the writing, plotting and so on, when to me it felt clunky and characterless? Worst still, it was swamped with the sort of sudden-death contrivances which cause editors to throw manuscripts across the room in despair – the as-you-knows and all that.
In theory, anybody can publish a novel on Kindle. So, in a world where the overwhelming majority of manuscripts get rejected by traditional publishers, should we novice authors be excited by the possibility that we can get our books out there without the support of agents, editors and publishing houses? Or should we dread the tsunami of self-indulgent, shoddily written, unedited narratives that will be the inevitable result of such freedom? Might they not overwhelm the traditional printed book and dumb-down the reading experience?
I love audiobooks – as my earlier post proclaims. I love being read to, especially when a narrator’s voice perfectly complements a story. I love the way they enable me to cover more literary (and even not-so-literary) ground than I would otherwise have time for.
At Christmas I was given a Kindle and I find I love this too. Now I can have 4 or 5 books in my handbag wherever I go. I don’t have to second-guess myself; I can pick and choose what to read according to my mood or the segment of time I want to fill. Will it be a racy plot-driven thriller or an oh-so-clever prizewinning literary masterpiece? Perhaps a treatise on the existence of God or an analysis of high-fat, low carb versus calorie-counting?
But I’ve always loved real, actual, physical books most of all. I love the feel of them when they’re new; that crisp-cut brick of pages, virgin spine, pristine and unsullied. And I love them too, when they’ve been read to bits, when the spine is bent back and creased a dozen times, the pages have gone a bit curly; there’s evidence of lunch or suntan lotion, corners turned down to mark favourite sections. That’s when they take up residence in my bookshelves – betraying all evidence of my pleasure in the reading. My books – the ones I’ve enjoyed and valued – are a little piece of ‘me’. I cannot throw a book out, nor even give one away, that has enthralled or entertained me. I want to be near it.
But now I find I have a dilemma. I read a book on Kindle and I love it. But where’s the evidence of this? ‘Soft’ just doesn’t do it. I listen to a novel, exquisitely read on an audiobook, and the only place it resides is in my iTunes library. That’s not good enough.
So I’ve taken to purchasing that lovely brick of pristine pages each time I enjoy an audiobook or a Kindle title. And I make room on my bookshelves for the pages that surprised, entertained or delighted me in their more contemporary formats.
I wonder if I’m alone in this? If I’m not, and there are hundreds or even thousands of audiobookers and Kindlers out there buying second copies in physical paperback, just to possess them, the book trade perhaps has less to worry about than it sometimes fears.