No-one can deny it. E-books have changed the world of publishing and have also made it possible for anyone, absolutely anyone who can string a story together, to become a ‘published author’. E-publishing is a double-edged sword in my opinion.
On the one hand, I love my Kindle and how I can preview a book I’ve read a review on before buying. Ditto, I can peruse old ‘classics’, often for free, and check out my favourite authors, new authors, authors I know. I can see immediately how their work has been received by others via the Amazon reviewing system. It’s great – like having a library on my bedside cabinet.
So what’s the trade-off? Well, unfortunately, quality can suffer. Too many writers rush to e-publishing long before they are actually ready to get their book out there. I recently scanned the Amazon Bestsellers List for free books and downloaded the number one rated book. Okay, a crime thriller is not really my chosen genre, but I’m the kind of reader who can appreciate a good story and a good writer in any genre (although I know both these terms are highly subjective). So, I started to read and well … let’s just say, the writing style, narrative voice, choice of vocabulary, lack of originality, left me fairly disappointed. What do you expect for free, I hear you ask – you get what you pay for? True, but other readers have rated this work highly. Is it just the best of a bad bunch? Are all the freebies on Kindle a bit amateurish? If readers are enjoying second-rate writing, aren’t they settling for less and lowering overall standards in publishing?
There are always exceptions which prove the rule of course, but in this instance, I deleted the book after about three pages. So, I padded off to my old-fashioned, pine bookshelves, packed with those novels I’ve read since circa 1989 which I haven’t given away to charity. And I have given lots of books to charity (or my mum) since 1989.
I let my fingers run along the spines – ah, real books – paper and wrinkly covers, yellowing pages and a few dark specks which suddenly started to move when I flicked them with my fingernail. Bookworms are worm-shaped, right? These were more like mites. Anyway, I made my choice – Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, first published in 1993 and respectfully hefty at 503 pages. How I loved that book when I first read it, despite being underwhelmed by Faulks’s later works. Would I get the same enjoyment from it 20 years later? Would the process of ‘becoming’ a writer myself affect my response to it?
I read it in a matter of days and I stick by my original view of this beautifully evocative novel dealing with The Great War, also known as The First World War. It’s moving, insightful, lyrical in parts, but most importantly, a highly convincing portrayal of humans pushed to their limits, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I will try to find the time to write a complete review and post it here, but in the meantime, here is Faulks’s chosen epigraph for Birdsong which is taken from the Indian writer, philosopher and poet, Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali:
When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.