Magazine article The Spectator

Nothing on Paper

Magazine article The Spectator

Nothing on Paper

Article excerpt

On the subject of e-readers, I suspect the world population divides neatly into two halves. On one side of the chasm, hell will freeze over and Accrington Stanley will win the FA Cup before anyone will even touch one. And on the other, that looks like fun, can I have one for Christmas?

I was a member of the first group - in fact, its president and hon. secretary - until offered a Kobo for free, complete with Penguin's new range of dedicated e-books.

Like all sensible publishers, Penguin has already dipped its corporate toe in the e-book market, but this new range of 'Shorts' and 'Specials' is different, in that none of the titles is available in paper form. Unless they sell in huge numbers, in which case they probably will be.

The assumption behind all this is that we are all so busy, and have so little time to read proper books, that these squibs, none of which would fill more than 70 pages if printed on paper, will satisfy us during a hurried lunch hour or a sweaty commute. You can see the point. Kindles and Kobos are nothing if not convenient, especially for city life, and even more so if you have remembered to recharge the battery first. With their first nine titles, Penguin are consciously covering all the bases, and with new releases coming out monthly, there should, in theory, be something for everyone. This first batch includes two short stories, two great battles, a memoir, a Christmas cookery book, and three extended pamphlets in the old Penguin Specials tradition. Each download costs £1.99.

Short stories seem particularly well suited to the medium. Everyone complains there are no outlets for individual short stories any more, and collections never sell as well as novels, but the idea of downloading a 20-page Helen Dunmore tale for lunchtime in the park appeals to me greatly. Protection is typically clever and artful, a nervy skin-prickler that grabs your attention immediately and then develops into a subtler character piece. Anita Brookner, as cutting edge as ever, stays in her discomfort zone for At the Hairdresser's. 'I regret the loss of innocence which darkens everything.

Now I feel shame not only for my failures but for my all too modest successes. …

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