Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Guess I'm Old School

Wow, it did not take me very long to speed through 253. The bite size stories and general lack of continuity make it ideal for procrastinating at work (and the dull type face almost makes it look like you are doing something important). The novel raised some interesting point about London that I do want to talk about, but I'm going to hold off on that for now and just give you my general impression of the "cyber novel."

The basic premise is simple and at first seems like it should be quite boring. Each "page" describes a different passenger during the morning commute on the Bakerloo line; what they look like, who they are, and what they are thinking about. Some of these people are very interesting, some are very dull- just like real life. What makes the concept work is the connections which Ryman establishes between seemingly unrelated characters. Sprinkled through each account are hyperlinks which demonstrate similarities and relationships. Instead of reading the story linearly, you can jump through the cars, following subplots and reading situations from multiple points of view. This is the kind of thing that the internet can do but obviously paper doesn't really allow (Ryman did publish this book as a paper novel as well, using an index instead of hyperlinks- somehow I doubt the effect was quite the same).

Novelty aside, it's a pretty compelling read, especially if you are someone with a voyeuristic imagination. I'm always wondering about people I see on the tube (or more importantly, how I look to people I see on the tube!). On a personal level though, cyber novels have nothing on the experience of holding a real live book in your hands. I may be a puritan, but to me, bound books have a certain magic to them which the internet will never be able to capture. It was fun to be able to read while sort of looking like I was doing work, but I missed the security of having a novel to burrow into on the tube. I know electronic publishing is gaining popularity, but I'm certain the good old fashion paperback will never go extinct. Curling up in bed at night with a cozy book just can't be replaced by cuddling with a glowing laptop.

So I'm happy to have a real, honest to goodness novel back in my hands. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, is a zany, satirical look at London society between the world wars. According to my extensive background research (looking on wikipedia) it is heavily influence by my favorite, TS Eliot, and was recently made into a movie directed by Stephen Fry. Hmm... TS Eliot and Stephen Fry... two awesome things that don't really go much together, so this should be interesting indeed.

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