Serialized fiction

I saw this first on The Passive Voice blog, but here is an article that caught my eye: Can Salman Rushdie and Substack Revive Serialized Fiction?

Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize–winning novelist, insists that he is not, like so many media members before him, going to Substack—at least not full-time. He won’t be publishing his next book on the newsletter platform. Instead, he’s taken an advance from the company to fool around with “whatever comes into” his head. This will apparently include a serialized novella. “I think that new technology always makes possible new art forms, and I think literature has not found its new form in this digital age,” Rushdie told The Guardian. “Whatever the new thing is that’s going to arise out of this new world, I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.”

This is all well and good, but here’s the paragraph I specifically noticed:

The second error that these media futurists made was overestimating how vulnerable the book was to digital technology. Many people, when they listen to music, like to jump around between artists: The iPod allowed them to do so seamlessly. Movies are consumed in one two-hour period, and most people don’t know what they want to watch before they sit down on the couch, a problem solved by Netflix. But most people read one book at a time—no one was lugging an entire library to the beach. A Kindle can store thousands of books, but who cares? Having an ocean of literature at your fingertips is neat, but it doesn’t change the time-tested user experience of reading in a dramatic way.

Bolding is mine. This is where I said, Wait, wait! I (usually) read one novel at a time, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t lug an entire library to the beach! I absolutely would! That’s the entire reason I got a Kindle in the first place: so I could take a library with me on vacation!

More than that, I disagree with the author of the linked post that the Kindle re-creates the feel of an actual book. It does not. It’s a lot easier to read an ebook because

  1. I can blow the print up and don’t need glasses;
  2. I can read in the dark;
  3. I can hold the Kindle or phone in one hand without hurting my thumb;
  4. I can hold the book and turn pages with one hand, either hand, while holding three Flexi-leads in the other hand;
  5. I can prop the Kindle or phone on the windowsill and read while washing dishes.

ANY of those benefits would make the ebook reading experience both different and better than reading a physical book. Also, ebooks don’t collect dust. (Don’t ask how long it’s been since I dusted.) (I don’t want to think about it.)

Physical books are still vastly superior for

  1. Cookbooks, or anything with images.
  2. Graphic novels, for example. I read one graphic novel on my phone. That was quite an interesting experience, but nothing I’d do again.
  3. Anything with a glossary or index or footnotes that you want to consult frequently.
  4. Any book you want to flip back and forth within while reading.

In addition to all that, I have to say, I’m surprised anyone can write a column about serializing novels as a new thing and not mention Kindle Vella. Even though I’m not interested in that format personally, I know it’s there.

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12 thoughts on “Serialized fiction”

  1. Some people do read multiple books at a time, and in science fiction and fantasy I think almost everyone reads multiple series at a time. We are used to having many stories in our heads at once.

    More than that, the author of the post isn’t acknowledging all the genres based on serialization. Comics, webtoons, mangas depend on serializing their stories. The author is probably only thinking about “Literature” since the article is about Salman Rushdie, which seems a rather narrow view.

  2. Yes!
    I love traveling with a kindle because I don’t have to play the “how many books should I pack?” game. Guaranteed that I never guessed correctly. Too many and you have to lug them all over. Too few and you’ve met the horror of “no book”.

    The other great thing about kindle is that I don’t have to predict what I will be in the mood for. It’s all there if I want to re-read or try something new.

    I keep my kindle in my purse so that I always have a book with me. I can read any time I’m waiting.

    For technical books, it can be nice to have them on kindle because you can actually search in the book to find the appropriate section.

  3. Kaylynn, I think you’re right.

    And yes, even I have started reading multiple books at one time a lot more often than I used to.

  4. Jo, yes yes yes! How am I supposed to know what I’ll want to read? Now I don’t have to decide that ahead of time!

    The only time in my life I ever sat down and read one biography after another was when I was stuck with nothing but the books that had accumulated on the shelves where I was staying. I read the first two volumes of a biography of Churchill, which wasn’t even enough to get him to the point he was prime minister — it was a REALLY long biography, I guess. Also a biography of Clarence Darrow. And a biography of General Stilwell. I’m not sure what else. Those are the ones I remember. The one about Stilwell was my favorite of the bunch, as I recall.

  5. If you are talking about William Manchester’s books about Churchill, those were just the best books on him, and I was so sad that Manchester died without completing the third book, although you could see he couldn’t possibly get through Churchill’s life without five volumes, considering the depth he went into. In terms of serialization, I liked Sherwood Smith’s book The Phoenix Feather so much that I almost subscribed to Patreon to read books two and three, but I don’t want to read a chapter at a time. Too frustrating .

  6. Alison, I don’t know — that seems likely, considering you mention the “depth he went into.” The ones I read certainly went into depth. I remember — I think I remember — that the last line of the second book was a quote of a woman who said, “Churchill? Churchill is finished.” That was a great ending considering where the biography must have gone next.

    Yes, I’m one hundred percent not into waiting for installments. I never read teaser chapters either.

  7. Well, I usually read multiple books at the same time and I have a Patreon subscription as well. Just one at the moment.:)

  8. I agree, Tuchman’s book “Stilwell and the American Experience in China” is an excellent, enjoyable book. (I can’t imagine you’re talking about a different Stilwell bio.) It’s one of her best books–there are four that really stand out.
    (The others are Guns of August; Distant Mirror; and March of Folly.)

  9. I’ve read manga on the large kindle fire which was ok – wouldn’t want to try on my phone’s screen, too small Since I have trouble reading the words in the paper copies the screen helps. But if I remembered to grab my glasses or a magnifier I’ll read the paper copy.

    I prefer paper for nonfiction with references, illustrations, and other reasons to be looking closely or flipping back and forth. The Kindle Fire is a bit better than the e-readers for non-fiction, but paper is still better for some things. Or my regular computer with the 17″ monitor for putting up all those things and letting me see them together.

    I’ve used the FIre occasionally for cookbook or recipes sometimes, but usually print the recipe out instead, then I just scribble down notes as I go. It’s just harder to look at the screen than the paper, somehow, when I’m following directions.

    THe author of that post is not a hardcore reader and knows none, everyone of my acquaintance takes lots of books on trips. (not to the beach because: hot, glare, bugs) but I hauled a suitcase of books all over France, once. I was delighted when the Kindle came out.

    As for serialized books, I guess, if it works for you, it works. I’m not seeking it out. It would have to be priced right or I’d feel cheated, I suspect.

  10. I was in an online discussion when a volume of Witch Hat Atelier came out — in ebook form first. Much lamenting that the art is so wonderful you really need the print.

  11. The author of the post is making some strange assumptions. I think they mean can Rushdie revitalize serial fiction for the LITERARY genre? There is quite a lot of serialized fiction out there already, like the ones Kaylynn mentioned, plus apps for romance and other commercial genres.

    I agree about all the benefits of an ebook over print (or vice versa for some things) though I have never read a book while doing the dishes! And I’m usually reading several fiction and at least one non-fiction book at a time.

  12. That’s the one, Pete. I’m sure that’s the title, plus it was a really good biography, so I’m sure you’re right.

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