The joy of ‘doorstop fiction’ on the Kindle

Reading a Stephen King: this an unexpected result of getting a Kindle. I’ve heard that eReaders have boosted the sales of romance novels: people can read them on public transport without being exposed by those tell-tale covers. The other unlikely material I’ve read on the Kindle is the first two volumes from the George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire series (A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings). Just typing the titles makes me confused: why am I reading books with dragons and medieval battles?

Because they’re good reads. In the context of the Kindle, not page turners but button-pressers. (As an online comment in the Guardian noted, in response to negative posts about Stephen King’s latest: I love it when people say that writers who make bajillions in sales are doing something wrong.) Seeing John Lanchester –whose pieces in the London Review of Books I always turn to first – list it as a ‘guilty pleasure’ in his books of the year, makes my pleasure far less guilty.

The Kindle is very suited for long, linear stories – not so good for anything where you’d want to refer back to a previous chapter, or a map. It makes 11.22.63, which clocks in at 700 pages, cosy rather than daunting. You simply press the page-turn button and watch as the scale at the bottom of the screen counts up from 1% to 99% read. More importantly, you don’t have to carry struggle to hold them up in bed or squeeze them into your hand luggage.

I’m not actually daunted by long books, though I do hate carrying them around. I was distraught when I reached the end of A Suitable Boy: I’d have happily spent another 200 pages with its characters. (But I also know someone who sliced their copy in half to make it manageable. Yes, she does now use a Kindle.) When I got into the Patrick O’Brien Aubrey-Maturin novels, it was a relief to know there were 19 of them. I could devour them at two sittings without worrying that I’d come to the end too soon.

I recently met Vikram Seth who told me he was writing a sequel, to be called A Suitable Girl, about finding a wife for Latha’s grandson. I don’t know if this is true – he’d been enjoying free champagne at a book launch – but I do hope so. I was equally thrilled to hear that the putative sequel to Wolf Hall is in fact going to be two sequels. I love Mantel’s writing, and this book in particular. Incidentally, I also know someone who read Wolf Hall on his iPhone – not Kindle, not even an iPad He must have a good memory because most people I know consulted the character list every few pages. A testimony to the relentless power of this book, as much as his determination.

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