Friday, April 1, 2011

Serial novels and Long Form Reviews

There will be a regular Friday review later; it's not ready yet. The review this week focuses on a number of books from a series of novels; one from the middle of a series, one from the beginning of a series, and one which is entirely tangential to a series. With that in mind, this post actually makes sense in that context.

A number of people around the internet are engaged in long form book reviews/critiques. In my sidebar, you can find Deeky's "Overton Windex," where Deeky recently completed a detailed deconstruction of Glen Beck's Overton Window. The Former Conservative is engaged in a periodic trampling of Michael Savage's Savage Nation. Fred at Slactivist has, famously, been tearing the Left Behind books to shreds for years now (I think we're a little over half-way through the second book - this is review/critique in the longest of possible forms). I know of (but have no links to) similar attempts to address the works of Ayn Rand and various other LaHay/Jenkin's works. Two elements of these attempts stand out - one, the focus tends to be an icon of the political/social right wing in the US and two, the reviewer/critiquer is openly opposed and contemptuous of the author, the author's philosophy, and the author's writing. This produces biting, bitter, writing, and lots of very nice discussion.

I teach introductory college History. I don't need to go out of my way to find bad writing and arguments, and I don't really want to increase the level of bitterness in my emotional diet. However, I do kinda want to engage in the long form review trend, because it will provide the sort of routine posting that I enjoyed participating in in February with Amal's Honey Month. To that end, Candlemark and Gleam* and Isabel Kunkle have, inadvertently, come to my aid. (Full disclosure - Izzy is a fellow slactivist - you can find her blog in my sidebar as well; her name links to her blog) Candlemark and Gleam have decided to publish Izzy's latest novel, The Hickey of the Beast, online, as a serial novel. (The link there goes to the serialization page.) For $5, they will send you a chapter of the book each Tuesday, and a full PDF of the book at the completion of the process. Various higher levels of participation will result in nicer rewards, up to and including an RPG scenario for table-top role playing - but that was a little out of my budget. The first two chapters are free - you can go and read them right now. Starting next Wednesday, with chapter 4 (I'm a little behind) I will begin reviewing Izzy's book (provided that I get no objections from the publisher or the author).

Before that, however, a short note on the serial model itself. First up, I think this is a really good idea. I've read some works electronically - my laptop has a tablet feature (I can flip the monitor around and hold it like a tablet! I can even write on the tablet with a stylus! It's cool!), but it's not really good for reading long form fiction. At a chapter a time, however, I don't even need the tablet - I can easily read it in my e-mail as it arrives. That's nice. The price is good too, and the various treats at higher levels of subscription are pleasant (although not quite tempting enough to get me, personally, to shell out the extra cash).

The serial is not, of course, an entirely new idea. Indeed, it used to be one of the ways in which novels were routinely released - Dickens, Doyle, and many other authors saw their works published in chapter form in magazines and newspapers, and only later collected in a single volume. Perhaps a modern equivalent would be the printing of comic books which are later bound and released as graphic novels. As another example, Stephen King's Green Mile was originally released as a series of chapbooks before being published in a single volume. Candlemark and Gleam are trying to adapt this old form of publishing to the new electronic frontier, and it seems like a noble experiment.

Serial publishing clearly presents some unique challenges for the author. Each chapter must end in such a way that the reader is compelled to read the next installment. Each chapter should, ideally, allow the reader to understand what has gone before, without descending into a rote recitation of the story thus far (Izzy and CM&G seem to have avoided this - if you buy into the story later, you get all of the previous chapters as well as the current one; clearly not an option when the book is being published in a magazine). Perhaps there is a struggle between a desire to keep the narrative simple (so as to make it easy to keep track of what is happening) and to engage in extreme complications (to keep the attention of the reader - like a soap opera). I'll be watching to see where these sorts of struggles go.

In general, I applaud the experiment, and hope it goes well. I look forward to engaging in a long form review of a book which I will actually enjoy reading (I hope I will enjoy reading it; I'll be sad if that's not the case), and I am happy to (ideally) be introducing you to a new writer and a new publisher. I invite you to join me in reading the book, and perhaps contributing to the discussion here.

*from the CM&G site: "Candlemark & Gleam is an experiment in publishing. We consider ourselves modern anachronists – creative types dedicated to preserving the beauty and individuality of age-old publishing forms while adapting them for the digital era.
Our goal is to distribute innovative, high-quality creative works in an innovative manner.
We don’t believe that the Electronic Era has to mean the death of the book. In fact, we think it opens up some exciting new avenues…and reopens some exciting old ones, too. Some long-forgotten publishing concepts are due for a revival, and Candlemark & Gleam is out to inject new life into ideas like serial fiction, book clubs, bundling, and bespoke and artisanal binding."