KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Books, Reviews

Anytime, anywhere? Reviewing Penguin and A&U digital shorts

by Stephanie Van Schilt , June 6, 20126 Comments


With the ubiquity of smartphones and e-readers, and the wealth of content available to us – from podcasts to video on demand – it was inevitable that publishers would publish (and require) more from writers. To appease the busy, mobile and insatiable e-masses, following on from similar and successful international initiatives, a bout of digital shorts have been released locally.

Competing with free short content available on personal blogs or dedicated websites, local publishers have released affordable packages of e-shorts. Portable non-fiction or fiction stories, by writers known and unknown, are available for an array of digital devices. They are pitched as original, locally produced snack-priced treats for the on-the-go mind, for an audience who want more and less to squeeze into any available corner of life.

Here at Killings, we decided to nibble on a couple of the digital shorts campaigns during our busy day-to-day lives.

Penguin Shorts

The Penguin Shorts mission statement reads like the wordy title of Nam Le’s contribution: these shorts are ‘quality’ and ‘original’ and ‘affordable’ and ‘exciting’. When I read three of the texts – released in April this year – on my iPhone, these adjectives eventually rang true. The files contained thirty-ish pages of well-written stories from well-known local names, chosen for their literary associations and established, niche audiences.

However, I say eventually for a reason. After downloading the required free app –  txtr ebooks – the e-book files wouldn’t upload, my account password was declined and the app crashed at least twice. Perhaps if I had purchased the e-books through one of the vendor options (Amazon.comApple iBookstoreGoogle Play and Kobo), it would have been easier.

Procedural gripes aside, the visual presentation on my small glowing screen was pleasant: stark, neat and easily read while I was at the gym, waiting for coffee and, of course, on public transport.

James Bradley’s reimagining of Rapunzel in Beauty’s Sister offered what I have longed for from other recent pop culture forays into fairytale extension. Utilising fable tropes such as sibling rivalry, childhood misadventure and sorcery, Beauty’s Sister took me into its world, allowing me to forget that I was stand-spooning a stranger on the 96 tram.

In Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire’s Women of Letters collation, personal snippets from the likes of Helen Garner and Deborah Conway, momentarily took me away from the mundane. The competently curated letters are filled with humour and heart, with tinges of melancholy or longing. As the prose delicately unfolds, each voice is clear, making the letters easy to devour while waiting for a morning caffeine hit.

Likewise, Nam Le’s short – Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice – was a tight and densely emotional journey that sucked me in and contained as much power as the lengthy title.

These stories are sold as distractions for the easily distracted, yet this is a double-edged sword. Reading these gloriously intricate tales on my iPhone was convenient, yet the primary function of my device served as a distraction in itself. Midway through a poignant scene in Le’s story, I was interrupted by a text message. And the message’s presence vibrated in my brain until I closed the e-book to read it.

Also, despite the claim that these texts are ‘only available in digital format’, Le’s short has, for example, in fact been published in hard copy before, but is an exclusive as an individual story in this particular form.

In all, I enjoyed reading the first three digital shorts from this initial series of seven, and will gladly devour the others, wherever I am, when I have a moment to spare.

A&U Shorts

In the introduction to its debut A&U Shorts series, Allen & Unwin claims that digital technologies offer ‘new opportunities for short form writing’. It’s interesting to note, however, that the five stories available are not themselves new. Rather, they were handpicked from the Australia Council’s annual series, Ten Stories You Must Read This Year (2009–11), released though its ‘Get Reading!’ campaign.

According to the Council’s website, Get Reading! is aimed at ‘inspiring more Australians to discover or rediscover the pleasure of reading’. In this light, Allen & Unwin’s initiative might be targeted at those who don’t ordinarily read short fiction. As A&U reminds its readers, ‘some of Australia’s best-loved novelists also write great short stories’. Indeed, Tom Keneally, Alex Miller, Peter Temple, Christos Tsiolkas and Charlotte Wood, write superb short stories worth much more than the $1.99 price tag (‘less than the price of a cup of coffee’).

The authors’ reputations will no doubt play a huge role in which e-books users select. When selecting which of the titles to read, not having read any short fiction by these authors, I was swayed by the names of novelists I’d previously enjoyed. Tsiolkas’s ‘Sticks, Stones’ revisits the darker side of suburbia and parental responsibility, themes he brilliantly illuminated in The Slap,  while Wood’s ‘Nanoparticles’ cleverly articulates a mind in crisis, much like her recent novel Animal People did. The biggest surprise was ‘Ithaca in my Mind’, in which Temple uses his trademark grit to bludgeon the ever-fickle publishing industry.

The stories are available through Booki.sh, (update: also available through Kindle, Kobo and a number of other retailers) a user-friendly reading platform that offers free registration. Allen & Unwin instructs readers to ‘try one over lunch, or on your way home!’ Due to my own technological restrictions, I read these stories on my MacBook while hunched over my desk. Hardly a pleasurable experience, but this will not be the case for every reader.

In the future, I’d love to see Allen & Unwin offer readers some genuinely ‘new’ reading opportunities and expand its Shorts series to include lesser known writers, who arguably have more to gain from this digital platform than the current distinguished list do.


Stephanie Van Schilt (Penguin review) and Emily Laidlaw (A&U review) are the KYD Online Interns.




  • http://benjaminsolah.com Benjamin Solah

    I think the Penguin ones are much more on the money, offering a variety of user-friendly formats and not restricting readers to the Book.ish format.

    A&U shorts do look appealing with some great names, but despite all of that, the fact you have to hunch over a MacBook or burn your eyes out on a tablet makes them inaccessible. I see Kindles and eInk eReaders all the time now on my tram on my way to work. None of these people can read the A&U shorts so are more likely to go for the Penguin ones.

  • http://www.kobo.com malcolm neil

    I see a storm of short form econtent happening, but to me these are all feel slightly repurposed and not yet part of a full play at this type of publishing.

    In A + U defense though the titles are available on Kobo and, I assume, other retailers as well

  • http://www.iamverybusyandimportant.net Sophie Benjamin

    Making content solely available through book.ish or some other publisher-created app is a deal breaker for me.

  • http://www.kobo.com malcolm neil

    I’m not sure if you are responding to me Benjamin, but that is exactly what Allen and Unwin are doing. Kobo and other retailers have these books, not just booki.sh

  • Stephanie Van Schilt

    For those wondering, the Penguin Digital Shorts series range in price from $2.99 – $3.99.

  • Pingback: Anytime, anywhere? Reviewing Penguin digital shorts | Stephanie Van Schilt

West Bank

David Donaldson

Whitewashing occupation? Bill Shorten and the Israel Lobby

Racism and military occupation have no place in the modern world, and are certainly not something looked upon favourably by a majority of Australians. Yet while apartheid, for example, has become a byword for shame and racism, the Labor Opposition leader feels comfortable asserting that some Israeli West Bank settlements are legal. Read more »

Tony Abbott

David Donaldson

Abbott and Brandis’ culture war backfires

What is supposed to happen in a culture war is that conservatives use a controversial issue to drive a ‘wedge’ through the left, forcing a split between factions. In Australia, this usually means pitting Catholic unionists against their socially liberal colleagues in the Labor party. Read more »

climate change

David Donaldson

Australia is going backwards on climate policy

During the Howard years, it was usual for Australia to be awarded ‘Fossil of the Day’ by climate advocacy groups whenever it attended a climate negotiation conference. The award signifies the country that had done the most to hinder climate change negotiations, and Australia has won a pile of them. Read more »

Zoe Pilger

Carody Culver

Girls, eat your hearts out

Middle class hipsters, conceptual artists and third-wave feminists have long been easy targets for mockery, so I admit that I wasn’t expecting anything too groundbreaking when I picked up Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out, a satirical romp through contemporary London that reads like a surreal mash-up of Broad City, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Less Than Zero. Read more »

Laika, Astronaut Dog

Carody Culver

Houston, we have a fabrication

As someone who doesn’t have children, I’m no less resistant than any of my book-loving friends-with-kids to the charm of a beautiful picture book. So when I spotted Laika: Astronaut Dog by writer and illustrator Owen Davey, with its charming retro-style artwork Read more »

& Sons

Carody Culver

WASPiration: David Gilbert’s & Sons

As someone who’s always secretly aspired to being a WASP (before you mercilessly judge me for this, I should clarify that my desire has less to do with attaining elevated social and financial status than with being able to dress like a character in The Great Gatsby Read more »

American Pickers

Julia Tulloh

Eccentric junk collectors held high on American Pickers

The History Channel’s American Pickers, currently in its sixth season, is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable reality series on TV. It’s not a competition show, it doesn’t exist to objectify people and it isn’t particularly dramatic. So what’s the appeal? Read more »

Justin Timberlake

Julia Tulloh

Pleasantly forgettable: Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience

On 7 March this year, tickets went on sale for the Australian leg of Justin Timberlake’s latest tour, ‘The 20/20 Experience’. All five shows sold out in a few hours. The same day, five new shows were released, with most tickets for these rapidly selling out too. Read more »

BuzzFeed

Julia Tulloh

BuzzFeed quizzes understand me

If you use social media regularly – Facebook, in particular – you’ll have completed a BuzzFeed quiz during the past month. Don’t deny it. Even if you didn’t share your results online, deep down you’re still feeling smug because the ‘What Should You Actually Eat For Lunch?’ quiz confirmed that eating ice cream was, in fact, an appropriate meal for your personality type. Read more »

The Lego Movie

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Nostalgia and today’s family-friendly films

Hollywood has always known the adults are watching alongside the kids, and that to push a film into record profits (as Lego looks set to do with a global box office of $428 million and counting), you need to appeal to ‘kids of all ages’. Read more »

nympho-poster

Rochelle Siemiennowicz

Weirdos on screen: Noah and Nymphomaniac

There are some filmmakers you’ll follow into the dark, no matter how bad the buzz is about their latest work. For me, naughty boy Lars von Trier (The Idiots, Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Antichrist, Melancholia) and strange kid Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) are two filmmakers who can be loved or detested, but never ignored. Read more »

planes

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Notes from a plane

There’s an art to choosing the right film for every particular occasion, and as I nervously sit in a Qantas jet about to take off on a four-hour flight from Melbourne to Perth, the choice seems very important indeed. Read more »

Samsung fingers

Connor Tomas O'Brien

‘Fooled’ by technology

As I browsed the web last Tuesday, something struck me: tech companies can no longer pull off compelling April Fools’ Day hoaxes because there’s no longer even the thinnest line delineating sincerity from spoof. Read more »

wifi

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Flight 370 and gaps in the internet

On Twitter the other day, sandwiched between a slew of links to articles about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, somebody tweeted a link to the website for Tile, a Bluetooth-enabled device that can be attached to physical objects, enabling them to be located within a 150-foot range. Read more »

IMG_3267

Clipped: What would Susan Sontag say about always-on cameras?

As I write this, a tiny camera clipped to my shirt collar is silently taking a picture every thirty seconds. At the end of the day, I will plug my Narrative Clip into my MacBook, and it will upload half a gigabyte of images to the Cloud. … Read more »

Young Adulthood Books

Danielle Binks

The young adult books of my young adulthood

In March, Penguin Books Australia rereleased Melina Marchetta’s first novel as part of its Australian Children’s Classics series. Looking for Alibrandi was first published in 1992; the first print run sold out in two months, and Marchetta’s debut went on to win the Children’s Book Council of Australia Children’s Book of the Year Award. Read more »

When You Reach Me

Danielle Binks

A children’s lit prize of one’s own

Earlier this year, Readings Bookstore announced the creation of The Readings Children’s Book Prize. The eligibility criteria for the 2014 Prize was specified as ‘a work of published fiction, written for children aged 5–12’. Read more »

The Fault with a Sick-Lit Debate (1)

Danielle Binks

The fault with a sick-lit debate

American author John Green’s young adult (YA) novel The Fault in Our Stars has been a bestselling juggernaut since its release in 2012. Green’s book was somewhat inspired by his friendship with Esther Earl, whose posthumous memoir This Star Won’t Go Out was released in January this … Read more »

music theory

Chad Parkhill

Do music critics need music theory?

Canadian musician Owen Pallett – the man who arranged the strings on Arcade Fire’s albums, co-wrote the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Her, and has a bunch of wonderful solo albums – can now add another feather to his cap: that of an engaging music writer. Read more »

Tune Yards

Chad Parkhill

Drips, leaks, and spurts

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement – musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track … Read more »

Grandma photoshop

Chad Parkhill

Singing out

My maternal grandmother, Merilai Lilburn, recently died in a nursing home in Katikati, New Zealand, of complications arising from pneumonia. She was 82 years old. At the time of her death, I and the other members of our extended family based in Australia Read more »

Community

Stephanie Van Schilt

Diary of a lurker: TV and Twitter

At the end of last month, global information provider Nielsen announced that Australia was to become the third country in the world with the ‘Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings’ service. According to a Nielsen Company press release, the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are ‘the first-ever measure of the total activity and reach of TV-related conversation on Twitter’. Read more »

Broad City

Stephanie Van Schilt

Funny Broads

‘All comparisons between Girls and Broad City should be hereto forth banned from the internet.’ I agree with Katherine Brooks. Yet the comparisons continue, ad nauseam, mostly following one of two lines of thought. Read more »

The Carrie Diaries

Stephanie Van Schilt

‘Alive Girl’ TV: The Carrie Diaries

Get ready to feel old: it’s been ten years since the final episode of Sex and the City aired. I’m not talking about the first episode back in 1998, but the final episode – the one before the two questionable movies were released. Read more »