I will read just about anything and in just about any format. Except in this context, format covers two aspects.
First, we have format in terms of content.
Cereal boxes have held my interest when nothing else was around, for instance, all the way down to copyright info or patent numbers, just noticing the different types of info included. If I’m given a choice, I’ll opt for mysteries most of the time, but I also read sci-fi, fantasy, young adult, middle grade, historical. I’ve read a few modern chick-lit and even, in a desperate weekend in my youth, a Harlequin romance that was the only thing in the trailer I hadn’t already read. It’s an hour of my life I will never get back.
I am not a voracious reader of non-fiction, although I try from time to time. I’m great at starting, lousy at finishing them.
But when it comes to short stories, I prefer older ones or mystery stories. In both, I am almost guaranteed a complete story. That sounds a bit cryptic, but a lot of modern short stories I find are almost “slice of life” stories. They start in the middle of a story, give you a snippet, and then end without any real resolution. The literary mags LOVE them; I would rather read the cereal box.
Second, we have format in terms of the physical format. I grew up on paper books, read stories in newspapers and magazines too. Abridged versions with multiple books in one volume, like Readers Digest Condensed Books, were among the forms. But all types of paper.
Electronically, I have read lots of stuff online, but usually non-fiction articles.
My first e-book was actually on a Palm Pilot, and I don’t remember what it was. I think, but am not sure, that it might have been a Sherlock Holmes collection. My second e-book was actually read on a computer screen. I downloaded a copy of the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown [Edit:
James Patterson…thanks Kathrine!] as I wanted to know what all the hype was about. I thought, from the way some people had talked about it, that it was some sort of non-fiction thesis. I didn’t realize it was a novel. And with it downloaded on to my monitor, I sat and read it all in one sittting. My first full-length e-book. Which made me realize, as I had long suspected but couldn’t confirm, that I didn’t care about the physical format. If I can get lost in a story, the physical aspect disappears into the background. I have read on computer screens, Palm Pilots, Kindles, phones, and tablets.
Challenges for formats
The only real formats that I haven’t embraced are audio books and podcasts. Some of it is technical, in that I haven’t found a good workflow that just gets me listening quickly, although it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out of course. Some of it is space and time…I rarely have long periods of time where I’m driving alone, which would be the likely time to listen, and when I do have time to relax and ingest stories, I tend to be more looking for quiet and separation from noise than someone droning on in my ear. If I want sound, I’m more likely to opt for serialized storytelling through TV shows.
But some time ago, I read about new stories coming forward for the TV series Orphan Black. If you never watched the show when it was on, the basic premise is a mystery with a sci-fi backdrop. In the opening episode, you see a girl named Sarah whose life is a giant crapfest (she’s stolen drugs from a drug dealer in order to sell them and run away with her daughter to start a new life). She witnesses another woman who looks JUST LIKE HER commit suicide by stepping in front of a train. She steals the woman’s identity while looking for a place to crash AND trying to figure out why they were twins, and fast-forward a couple of jumps, and voila, she finds out they were clones. And it wasn’t just the two of them, there are MORE. None of them knew they were clones until Beth, the suicide victim, figured some of it out. The series ran five seasons, and some of it was crap while other parts were AMAZING. The biggest part of the show that DID work was Tatiana Maslany who played all the clones. Each was REALLY different from the others, and she embodied all of them uniquely. It was astounding.
Anyway, I digress. The announcement was that there were NEW stories, further adventures after the series ended, and Tatiana would be doing the voices. Wait…voices? Is it animated?
Nope. They’re a relatively new format, or an old format reimagined, but they are podcast-style episodes (audio only) on a site called Serial Box (yeah, my mention of reading the cereal box wasn’t accidental hehehe). I mention “old formats” because in a sense, they are like old-time radio shows like the Shadow or Arsenic and Old Lace. Fibber McGee and Molly maybe. Or Dragnet. But not all of them are like that. Some are just narrations, like audio books, except done as episodes.
You can buy an episode at a time, like you can on places like Apple Music for TV shows, or buy a “season’s pass” for about $10.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that I don’t do audio books and I don’t do podcasts. So why would I be interested in this? Because of three things. First, I loved Orphan Black and it intrigued me. Second, I really enjoy old radio shows. I know there are lots of places on the net that have the old recordings, and some day, when I have time, I’ll curate myself a decent list to get going. Third, they aren’t just selling narrated versions. You also get the prose to read. Every word is on the screen, so you can just READ the stories. And since I read faster than the narrator, I can finish them way quicker.
The only thing that has held me back in the past is the format. I know, I know, which format? The physical format in this case. You CANNOT download the prose. It is only readable within the reader app that Serial Box uses. And I REALLY don’t like locked formats for reading content. Every e-book that I read, I backup into a different program so that if application X suddenly stops working, I can still access it. I paid for access, I’m keeping my access unless and until someone wants to refund it to me. Usually, at least.
But Serial Box doesn’t have any download options, their way of preventing retransmission i.e. piracy. I hate the business model, and I would have balked at paying for Orphan Black for a season only to have it potentially disappear at some point on me. But I was so excited that I bought it on sale before I knew.
The neat thing, though, is that every Thursday night at 9:00 p.m., they give away some “intro” special for a particular series. Most of the time, I forget to log in to see it. Or I remember at 10:30 p.m. by which time all the free passes are gone. I bought OB, but I never did get around to listening to it. Or reading it online. I really wanted to read it offline, or maybe on my phone or tablet, and have just never made the time to set it up.
But tonight, I got a prompt on my computer reminding me of the weekly freebie, and I managed to snag one of the passes. A four-day free overview of The Triangle, a 10 episode show created by Dan Koboldt and written by him, Mindy McGinnis, and Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. It is described as a Michael Crichton-style adventure thriller, and that is probably close enough. Not as good as Crichton, maybe more by way of James Patterson clones, but it was REALLY good. I binge-read all 10 episodes tonight while sitting at my computer. It was a cool story about the Bermuda Triangle and an explanation of what caused everything to go haywire. Not all the pieces work, but it was pretty well done.
And since I enjoyed it so much, I started reading the Orphan Black series before remembering I have to get up early tomorrow AND I still had this blog to write. The format is not universally good for content, however. There was another show that I got a free pass for a number of months ago and could barely stomach the first two pages before tossing it. The writing was terrible. On the other hand, they have some Marvel shows too, building on Black Widow.
I haven’t quite decided if I will review the Triangle or not, but since I have only four days of access, if I want to make any notes for a review, now is the time to decide. I review just about everything else I consume — movies, books, TV shows, etc. It seems only natural to review it, but I’m not even sure what to call it. A book? A podcast? A TV series? A radio drama?
Whatever it is, today I choose to read a serialized story in a new format.
What choices are you making?