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Internet putting new spin on serialized books

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Shawn Sensiba
January 4, 2013

Read any good serial books lately?

Serialized novels are said to have first gained popularity with Charles Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers," published in 1836. Many of his works were published in such a form. It's easy to understand the massive length and structure of "David Copperfield" if you recall that it was first published in chapters over a period of two years.

According to Wikipedia, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of the first significant American literary works released serially.

The format never completely disappeared. Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities" was excerpted at length in Rolling Stone magazine before it was fully published. Stephen King suggested he was following Dickens' serial style when he published "The Green Mile" in six installments. What additionally impressed me about "Green Mile" was that King claimed that when Part 1 was published he had no idea where the story was going to go. If that was true, it seems remarkable, although King fans often will (and have) proved willing to read King even when he is at his worst.

But back to the subject at hand. Like the book market, the Internet is creating a new spin on serialized books.

A recent episode of "On the Media" suggests that the publishing model is in a period of sweeping change and that self-published serial novels might be a wave of the future. With the growth of self-publishing via Kindle and iBooks, that seems as though it might be right on the mark.

I have only read one serialized novel so far, but I have to admit it was quite entertaining. "Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End," was published by a Spanish lawyer named Manel Loureiro. The book, which is the first of three parts, began as a blog by Loureiro. The book is totally without the artifice and devices that most novels use. It really does feel as though you are reading the recollections of a man caught up in terrible times. The other two installments of Loureiro's novel have been published in Spain but have not been translated into English as of yet. I eagerly await their arrival.

In the meantime, I am beginning to read "Yesterday's Gone: Season One" by Sean Platt and David Wright. It's another serialized visit to the apocalypse. I will let you know how it goes. Honestly, I love the idea of getting books this way, although it is the opposite of the television content model I am embracing at the moment. Don't ask me to explain the logic of it.

A lot of this material is genre fiction, which is fine with me. I love genre fiction. I'm not smart enough to be a literary snob about books.

What I like about this trend is that it bridges that gulf between what is popular with critics and the intelligentsia with the reading public. Readers enjoy page-turners. They enjoy a good scare, a vicarious thrill. A lot of the books we are supposed to read don't offer the mid- to low-brow fun that some of these books might.

And for the occasional aspiring writer out there plugging along at a daily newspaper and writing blog entries on the side, this trend offers a little hope that those literary ambitions might not be lost yet. Hey, if these guys can publish an enjoyable novel, why not me, or you?

Have you read any of these serialized books? Do you have any you can recommend? Please share your opinions with us.

Follow Shawn Sensiba on Twitter @shawnsensiba.



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