The Short, Sweet Side of E-Reading

If you own an ereader, chances are you’ve blown your monthly (weekly?) book budget more than once on impulse ebook buys. The ability to instantly download novels right to your device makes buying books so freakin’ easy and convenient. It’s amazing! But if you are looking for a more economical way to get your ebook fix, I’d highly recommend you check out the vast array of short stories, long-form journalism, investigative reporting, and many other styles available as downloadable “singles” for your ereader.

Yes, you’re probably most familiar with these pieces as Amazon singles, since Amazon has done the best job of marketing them, but these stories — which usually cost between free and $2.99 — are available all over the web, from the Google Play bookstore, Barnes & Noble, the iTunes bookstore, and an outfit called Byliner, which commissions its own “Byliner Originals.”

Since I got my Nook in December, I’ve been a fiend for these pieces. Most can be read in a sitting or two, and they give you a nice break from your short-attention-span magazine articles and long-attention-span novels.  If you haven’t checked them out yet, here are some recommendations as good places to start.

How A Book Is Born, by Keith Gessen — With the paperback version of Chad Harbach’s wonderful baseball novel, The Art of Fielding, due out next week (May 1), now is a good time to read this story by Harbach’s friend Gessen on how the novel came to be. It’s part exploration of the fiction-writing process and part examination of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. The e-version is an expanded version of a Vanity Fair cover story…and it’s really fascinating!

Don’t Eat Cat, by Jess Walter — This short story by the author of novels The Zero, The Financial Lives of the Poet and the forthcoming Beautiful Ruins, is a hilariously inventive take on the traditional zombie story. A dude has to try to find his ex-girlfriend, who willingly and knowingly took a drug to turn herself into a zombie. But why did she do that? Social commentary meets dystopia meets some high, high comedy here.

The Getaway Car, by Ann Patchett — This “Byliner Original” is, simply put, the best reflection of a writer’s own process and philosophy on writing fiction I’ve ever read. Patchett lays on the humor too — she tells a brief anecdote about a woman at a book signing who insisted that Patchett help her write her can’t-miss story “about her family’s arrival from the old country.” After a few attempts at deflection, Patchett sent her down to Amy Bloom’s table, telling her that Amy Bloom might be interested. “The woman, seized by the prospect of a new captive audience, scurried into Amy’s line. It was a deplorable act on my part, and I am sorry.” Yeah, but it’s hilarious!

Enemies, A Love Story, by Josh Schollmeyer — This 25,000-word oral history of Siskel & Ebert originally appeared in the first issue of the re-booted magazine, The Chicagoan. If you’ve ever watched their show, or have more than a passing interest in movie reviews, this is must-read. It’s really fascinating how their uneasy chemistry made their show must-see-TV for movie buffs.

Additional possibilities, which I haven’t yet read, but will soon: I’m Starved For You, by Margaret Atwood (a short story), After Friday Night Lights, by Buzz Bissinger (a sequel to Friday Night Lights), Into The Forbidden Zone, by William T. Vollmann (the prolific writer explores the nuclear hot zone in post-earthquake Japan).

Have you jumped on this “singles” bandwagon? What have you read and loved that we should all know about?

IMPORTANT NOTE: You don’t  actually need an e-reader to read these pieces — you can download apps for both the Nook and Kindle for your PC or Mac (or other devices), which allows you to read these stories on your computer.