Ebooks: Big summer reads add their weight to the digital cause

Taking your ereader to the beach will free you from sandy pages, smudges, sore wrists and one-arm sunburn

Holiday ereading: Kindles and other devices are easy to hold on the beach, to pack and to travel with. Photograph: Eyeswideopen/Getty

Holiday ereading: Kindles and other devices are easy to hold on the beach, to pack and to travel with. Photograph: Eyeswideopen/Getty


The sun is out, the cream is on, the laptop is locked and a new book lies waiting. This is the stuff that summer holidays are made of, but the reality of beach reading can sometimes disappoint. Sandy pages, smudges, sore wrists, one-arm sunburn: getting comfortable with a book on holiday can be difficult, especially if the latest bestseller is a lengthy read.

In the traditional-versus-digital debate, physical convenience is one of the biggest arguments in favour of ebooks. Kindles and similar devices are easier to hold, to pack and to travel with, and they can carry a virtual library of books without fear of adding to luggage costs.

Readers are becoming increasingly aware of these benefits, according to analysis in the UK: PricewaterhouseCoopers forecast this month that ebooks would outsell their traditional counterparts by 2018.

So here are some long summer reads that might be more appealing in digital form.

Published in March, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century (Harvard University Press, £13.48 for Kindle) is no light read, at almost 700 pages, but this surprise bestseller exploring the inequalities of capitalism is full of interesting arguments and evidence-based theories about the resurgence of inherited wealth.

Piketty, who focuses on the forces that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital, has come under scrutiny from the Financial Times, among others, for his research methods. Yet with income inequality rising significantly in the US and Europe, it is nonetheless a timely volume about the division of wealth in developed nations.

Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, criticised the book’s theses as rhetoric suited to “the well-heeled intellectual salons of Paris and New York”. Decide for yourself while en route to either destination with your ereader in tow.

Campaign precursor

While the soccer World Cup kicked off in Brazil this week, another quadrennial circus was heralded with the launch of Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices (Simon & Schuster, £8.55 for Kindle).

Although the next US presidential election isn’t until 2016, Clinton’s second memoir is widely viewed as a precursor for her campaign. With a title geared at reminding the public of the tough decisions she made as secretary of state, the book focuses on the successful calls of her tenure, such as the military raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, in 2011.

At 656 pages, it is bound to contain some self-mythologising and electioneering – which is all the easier to click over in an ebook.

A collection of short stories can make for inspired holiday reading, as it is easy to dip into and offers a range of self-contained worlds. Some of the best anthologies come as weighty hardbacks, but many collections published in recent years, such as Edna O’Brien’s excellent The Love Object: Selected Stories (Faber & Faber, £5.99 for Kindle), are also available as ebooks.

As John Banville notes in his introduction to the book, O’Brien’s genius is marked by her ability to go deep into the consciousness of a disparate cast of personalities. From bullying teachers to lovelorn mistresses, religious harridans to puritan mothers, her stories are a window to a great many worlds and their marginalised voices.

Winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (Little, Brown, £3.49 for Kindle) is a popular choice. Having taken more than a decade to finish, the Mississippi-born author’s third novel, which runs to almost 800 pages, is the story of a New York teenager who loses his mother in a terrorist attack. Set adrift in an alien adult environment, Theo Decker funnels his grief into some vividly rendered misadventures.

Ranging from dysfunctional high- society New York to the lawless desert terrain of Nevada, this is a portrait of a young man’s life in freefall and the enduring power of memory and art that help to sustain him.

Old classics in a new format

Classic literature has seen a resurgence in ebook form, and most titles are available to download for free. Running to 1,534 pages in its Penguin paperback edition, Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Clarissa (free for Kindle in the 10-part Augustan Reprint Society edition) becomes a much lighter read as an ebook, in form at least. Clarissa Harlowe is caught between a family intent on marrying her off for their own advancement and the villainous Lovelace, who wants to ruin her. There’s not much in the way of laughs, yet Clarissa’s struggle to remain true to herself makes her one of literature’s most memorable tragic heroines.

Other lengthy classics that would add a few kilos to a suitcase and so are easier to read as ebooks include Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, George Eliot’s Middlemarch and everyone’s favourite holiday read, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

With the UK ebook market due to rise from £380 million to £1 billion in the next four years – and a drop of a third in sales of printed books – it is clear that ebooks are here to stay.

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