I love the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries “Read for Later.” In the most recent issue I took a link to a Wired piece about “bingeing” on books. That to me sounded like a dream weekend, but the article was actually about a publishing format that was hot in the 19th century and is coming back in style: serialized fiction.
Which reminded me that I could download the final chapter of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia. Yes, that Julian Fellowes. His latest project is a 19th century story published 21st century style — via either the website or an app, in weekly installments. I subscribed as soon as I heard about it, which means that for eleven weeks I read a short chapter and then felt a little inconvenienced at being left hanging.
The app itself was seriously annoying — it won’t remember login information, so every week I had to enter it anew, which is problematic both in terms of remembering exactly what strange combo of capitalization, numbers, or characters I’d added to make the password fit the app’s requirements, and typing it all accurately on my iPad, something I always manage to screw up. Also sometimes the latest episode wouldn’t download, or would close while I was reading it.
The book itself is soapier than I would usually enjoy, but coming from the creator of Downton Abbey it’s highly entertaining and filled with historical details. At this point if you buy it I think you’ll get all eleven chapters at once, and if you don’t like eBooks, the print version will be published in early July. The book “opens on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, 15th June 1815, when the Duchess of Richmond threw a magnificent ball in Brussels for the Duke of Wellington.” From this real event, Fellowes spins a tale of love and betrayal, social aspiration and accomplishment. History and social commentary are the backdrop, but Fellowes’ characters are fictional, and in many ways very modern.
The main characters are the family of a self-made man who made his mark as Wellington’s supplier during the wars with Napoleon and went on to build great houses in London, and the family of his daughter’s love interest, aristocrats whose son was killed at Waterloo. There is plenty of family and social drama, and just plain human nature, and I enjoyed it as a pleasant diversion. I’d love to see a Masterpiece adaptation.
But reading Belgravia affirmed that I don’t love eBooks — I really didn’t even find the “bonus” features like links to information or photos all that engaging. I’m a narrative fan, and I don’t want to “binge” episodes, I want to read an entire novel at whatever speed I choose. But, that’s me. I’m all in favor of reading choices. If serialized fiction engages readers who otherwise don’t believe they have the time or attention span to read a novel, I hope the trend grows. But I’m hoping the print edition of Belgravia does even better than the serialized app, and that publishers use this trend as a hook, but continue to provide those who like to savor rather than binge with novels-in-full, in all formats, including print.