Sunday, November 20, 2011

Booker books and the Kindle

I decided to join the modern world recently and read two of the Booker Prize shortlisted books I picked up during an enjoyable sojourn in Cornwall.

The Sisters Brothers: This didn't win, but it was very good. Set in the Gold Rush era of the US and charting the journey of two murderous brothers, one with a conscious, the other without, it was a lyrical tale of odd characters and beguiling set pieces that was both engrossing and readable. Sometimes it felt like you were reading a movie script such as the short but elegant descriptions and brief dialogue and I wouldn't be surprised if it was turned into a film if the book achieves enough commercial success.

The Sense of an Ending: The winner and you can see why: dense, cleverly structured and very well-written, it's a sad reflection on memory and the damage people do to one another without ever knowing how or why. At times it read a touch like a man just thinking about life rather than a story, but the plot is sufficiently engrossing (and actually pretty dark) to keep you hooked throughout.

Both of these books, it should be noted, were also beautifully produced, with lush page textures, aesthetically pleasing fonts and great cover designs, a testament to the beauty of books over Kindle and their ilk (one of which I own and enjoy using). It made me think that books and e-book readers are not rivals at all but complementary systems of reading and it's merely a matter of preference to which device you choose for which book.

For example, before these two books I read the Steve Jobs biography, which in hardback is a huge, weighty brick of a thing, but I downloaded it to my Kindle and it was a joy to devour as it was so easy to carry around and read on the tube as I rattled around London. But the real books described above were improved some 10-25% (if you can quantify such things) but having the physical, well-designed thing in my possession to touch and hold.

One of my favourite books of all time, the non-fiction Leviathan by Philip Hoare was a similar such book, my love of which was undoubtedly enhanced hugely but the sheer beauty and craft of its physical design. Reading it on a Kindle would have been a hollow experience.

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