An Out-of-Book Experience

Posted by on Mar 31, 2011 in Kindle, Observations | One Comment

I’ve been enjoying some HP Lovecraft on my Kindle recently. This is thanks to Cthulu Chick, who has produced a free, Kindle-friendly Complete Works of HP Lovecraft (also compatible with most other book readers.)

This evening, on the ferry home from a long day at work, I pulled out my Kindle, turned it on, clicked into the Lovecraft, and started reading a new story.

It was a typical Lovecraftian beginning, where a man had occasion to go, for the very first time, up a tall stepladder into the dusty gloom of his attic, to trace a slow but mysterious drip. Here, he finds:

…a secret door, not visible from anywhere outside the house, in an external wall. The door opened easily and led out onto a tiny rooftop space, not much larger than a tabletop, between the front and back gables of house…

Dusty attic, secret door, typical Lovecraft, like I said. The next part continued in this gloomy vein, as the backdrop to our story is set out in a discussion between our protagonist and a local archaeologist:

Well, it isn’t because the church is sinking,” Brian said, smiling. “It’s because the churchyard has risen. How many people do you suppose are buried here?”

I glanced appraisingly at the gravestones and said, “I don’t know. Eighty? A hundred?”

I think that’s probably a bit of an understatement,” Brian replied, with an air of kindly equanimity. “Think about it. A country parish like this has an average of 250 people in it, which translates into roughly a thousand adult deaths per century, plus a few thousand more poor souls that didn’t make it to maturity. Multiply that by the number of centuries that the church has been there and you can see that what you have here is not eighty or a hundred burials, but probably something more in the order of, say, twenty thousand.”

This was, bear in mind, just steps from my front door. “Twenty thousand?” I said.

Now, it was around this point that I started getting a bit suspicious. Even in my end-of-the-working-day, on-the-boat-home state of doziness, while the subject matter — secret doors, dusty attics, all those interred souls — was distinctly Lovecraftian, the language was less so.

And it didn’t take long before I finally muttered, “what the…?” to myself. In fact, I can pinpoint the sentence:

The rest was just centuries and centures of people quietly going about their daily business — eating, sleeping, having sex, endeavouring to be amused — and it occurred to me…

…it occurred to me, in fact, that HP Lovecraft really doesn’t talk about “having sex”.

Not ever.

Once my synapses were finally firing along the “this can’t be bloody Lovecraft” lines, other incongruities that I’d skipped over suddenly jumped out. A Victorian house? Norfolk? Sure, there are Norfolks in America, but I doubt that they’re extremely flat and dotted with parish churches.

So, I clicked “Back” to head for the main menu, and figured out what had happened. Since the last time I picked up the Kindle, pay day had come and gone, and I’d bought a book from my Amazon wishlist as a treat. Bill Bryson’s At Home: A short history of private life, in fact.

Which, erm, starts off with Bill talking about one of his old homes, in Norfolk. Where he’d gone to fix a drip and found himself staring at a lovely view, which nicely introduces the Norfolk landscape and his local church, then segues in to a slightly morbid conversation about archaeology he had with a friend.

In the time between me seeing the menu pointing at the Lovecraft and me hitting the “read this book” button, the Kindle had fired up its 3G connection, downloaded the Bill Bryson book, and shuffled all the books down by one item in the menu, so that when I finally clicked the button I was reading Bryson rather than Lovecraft. And ensured myself a very confusing ride home.

D’oh.

I’m sure I would have worked it out quicker if I’d not primed myself to expect HP Lovecraft. Your brain plays tricks on you like that. Or if the Kindle didn’t helpfully skip the introduction of a new book and drop you straight at the beginning of chapter one.

And the real physical books would have been a dead giveaway. You just know the Lovecraft would have been a weighty paperback, probably featuring a black cover with stylised drooling green fiends. And the Bryson would have been a pleasant affair with a slightly quirky illustration.

But, unfortunately, even the third-generation Kindle remains a dull lump of plastic regardless of what you’re reading. I’m guessing e-ink colour covers which change depending on the book are still quite a long way off.

Until then, I recommend you double-check what you’re reading at the first hint of confusion. Because an out-of-book experience can be very disturbing. Especially when Bill Bryson is talking about the interred masses of all the people who have ever died in Norfolk…

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1 Comment

  1. Nicholas
    April 1, 2011

    Personally, I preferred his earlier book “Notes from the Mountains of Madness”. It had just the right balance of quirky, self-deprecating, mind-scrambling terror.