The Speed of Reading - Granta Magazine

The Speed of Reading

John Freeman

Granta’s editor John Freeman announces the arrival of the magazine’s first e-book edition for Kindle....

Granta’s editor John Freeman announces the arrival of the magazine’s first e-book edition for Kindle.

I’m sentimental about paperbacks. My favourite bookstore in the world is City Lights in San Francisco, the first all-paperback bookstore in the United States. They made their mark publishing a pocket poetry series with Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti; books small enough to fit in your back pocket. It’s hard to imagine, but in 1955 this was revolutionary.

Granta has never been – and I doubt it will ever be – small enough to put in your pocket. The memoirs and stories and reported pieces we publish are types of writing that benefit from expansive space. We want to look at the world in depth, at length. Two qualities often at odds with the way we live and consume information these days.

In thirty-one years of publishing, Granta has never come out in a different format. Ever since Bill Buford and Jonathan Levi took over Cambridge’s student literary journal and gave it new life as a paperback magazine it has been just that: a paperback quarterly full of new writing.

But for all of us the problem of portability remains, especially in a world of shrinking natural resources. For instance, our latest issue of Granta began its life as a tree in Sweden. It was turned into paper, then trucked down to our printer in Italy. Once the words of Lucía Puenzo, Patricio Pron and others were printed on the paper and bound between covers, workers loaded it back on to trucks and it was driven to a warehouse outside Heathrow.

And that’s just the beginning. If you bought Granta at City Lights, for instance, there would still have been thousands of miles for your copy to travel from Heathrow. It would have been put on an airfreight plane to New York City. It was then loaded on to a new set of trucks, maybe one with a stencilled name like ‘Cool’ or ‘Kurt’ on the driver-side door, and driven to Jackson, Tennessee, unloaded and sorted. It didn’t stick around for long though, because it was then loaded back on to a plane, or a truck, and driven to San Francisco, where it was sorted again, batched, put into a smaller van and finally unloaded at 261 Columbus Avenue.

There is, I think, something almost picaresque about this journey. I would say heroic if that word wasn’t so mangled and abused. But there is, now, a different way to get Granta. If you want to read the magazine on a Kindle, your copy can arrive in under a minute. An improvement in speed of 40,000 per cent. Perhaps this is the way of the future. Trees in Sweden will live a little longer. We don’t know. But a large part of me hopes the journey of the physical paperback continues, because as much as e-book technology will reduce our carbon footprint, a world where everyone must have a \$140 device to read is certainly not quite as democratic as the one we live in now. After all, you can just as easily go to a library and read Granta there.

The most important thing for us is that Granta can be read wherever and however people are reading. So if you like to read on a device, what I want to say is this: we’ve been hearing you. Follow the link
if you’d like to see what we’re saying in return. ?

Buy Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists for the Kindle now

All the contributors to our latest issue have been recommended by previous Best Young Novelists, who have written responses to their stories. Read:
Edwidge Danticat on Alejandro Zambra
Yiyun Li on Alberto Olmos
Chris Offutt on Matías Néspolo
Toby Litt on Carlos Labbé

John Freeman

John Freeman is the previous editor of Granta. His criticism has appeared in the Guardian, The New York Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. Between 2006 and 2008, he served as president of the National Book Critics Circle. His first book, The Tyranny of E-Mail, was published in 2009. His second book, How to Read a Novelist was published in 2013.

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