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Long-form reading thrives on the iPad

Joel Mathis | April 12, 2011
The Internet is doing incalculable damage to our brains--or so the chest-beating of recent years would have you believe.

One of the more notable offerings in this vein is Amazon's new Kindle Singles, a line of short e-books you can buy at Amazon's store and download to the Kindle app on your iPad. The collections of essays, profiles, novellas, and other longish-form writing cost $2 to $3 apiece to download. In some cases, these pieces are magazine articles that have been repurposed to make an extra buck for their writers, but there's lots of interesting stuff here. And it's a relief, too--very often, idea-driven books feel padded out in order to justify their publication. The Singles program lets writers pursue topics (as Amazon says) at "their natural length."

While the Kindle Singles can be read on a variety of devices, The Atavist app ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) is aimed squarely at users of the iPhone and iPad. The Atavist is free, but it lets users buy long-form stories from within the app for $3.

The Atavist has an array of multimedia tricks up its sleeve to keep you engaged. One story, "Piano Demon," plays an album-length soundtrack of music by the story's subject, Chicago jazzman Teddy Weatherford, while you read. (This feature can be turned off if you wish.) If your eyes are tired or you're otherwise engaged, you can listen to an audio version of the story--read by a human, not a computer like on Amazon's Kindle--and return to the printed text at any spot you choose. The only shortcoming? There's still a very limited selection of stories from which to choose.

The storytellers

The offerings we've looked at so far deal mainly with non-fiction, but readers interested in good old imagination-based yarns have options as well. McSweeney's ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) has been available at the App Store for a while, but the app re-launched in January to run on the iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod touch. The latest edition of McSweeney's also includes a small e-bookstore that offers novels individually formatted for the iPad and iPhone, relieving readers of the monotony of seeing all their books set in the exact same font and font-size.

Other apps in this genre offer more proof we're living in a grand age for storytelling. Narrative ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ), a free app from Narrative Magazine, contains top-notch essays, stories, poems, cartoons, and more, with contributions from writers such as Sherman Alexie, Tobias Wolff, and William Carlos Williams. There are no in-app purchases with this offering--just lots of high-quality content. On the downside, you can't share any of this free stuff via e-mail or social networks. But the writing here is so good (and free) that Narrative deserves to be downloaded by lit lovers.


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