Serialistion suddenly feels fresh again

In a world of almost-instant downloads, having to wait to get to the end of something feels novel

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The Independent Online

Looking for something interesting to read (once you’ve finished your copy of i, of course)?

I could point you in the direction of two great, and very different pieces of writing.

Both are from the US, both appeared in venerable New York publications, and I read both of them online. The first was an epic of reporting, interwoven with photography and interactive graphics. Called “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek”, it ran to thousands of words and took a single disaster - an avalanche in a backwoods skiing resort - and examined it, and its victims, from every angle. Written by the New York Times reporter John Branch, it was fascinating, and the months he spent on the story were evident in every detailed paragraph and heart-breaking interview.

My second recommended read, you might be pleased to hear, is bigger on laughs. The humorous novella “Sell Out” appeared on the New Yorker’s website last week and took aim at Brooklyn hipsters, American ambition and told the story of a pickle-maker from the 1900s suddenly having to make his way in a new New York. Its author is Simon Rich, a 27-year-old former Saturday Night Live writer (funny AND young. There’s a guy that it would be easy to hate if he didn’t write so beautifully).

Unfortunately, the one thing that these stories had in common apart from being really, really great, is the one thing that anyone coming to them now will miss. Both were serialised, making reading them an exercise in anticipation. Of course, you can still read them: here and here, but in a world of almost-instant downloads, having to wait to get to the end of something feels novel. Instead of gorging on Rich’s novella, say, then immediately heading to the Kindle store to download his other books, my usual style when it comes to a writer I’ve just discovered, I patiently wait a day between the four installments. The same thing was the case with “Snow Fall”. It wasn’t just that I really wanted to know what happened next as the story drew me towards the fatal events at Tunnel Creek, I wanted to see how Branch had done it. I didn’t go online to read the news stories about the incident, I waited to see how he unfolded it.

I know that serialistion isn’t exactly the latest innovation in writing (Dickens, anyone?) but for a way of publishing that’s more than a century old, it suddenly feels fresh. Amazon agrees - towards the end of last year it announced plans to publish a series of novels for Kindle in installments. So much as it’s quick and easy to smash and grab our way through books and articles, I recommended waiting and anticipating every now and then.