I was told in the midst of writing this piece that a couple of years ago someone had predicted that the e-book would destroy the publishing industry and that soon we would all be reading books on our computer or some specialized reading device. In the time that has passed between that observation and today, the e-book has survived the Mondo2000 hype (and it was hype). The e-book will not replace the book, because the physical nature of a book cannot be discounted as being essential to the experience of reading, of what a book is. None of this harsh reality stops Todd Hayes’ novel Flash Fortune from being an excellent e-book, though. This truth also does not discount that e-books do have a place in the world of books, just not on your bookshelf.
In book terms understanding the difference of an e-book from a physical book is easy to relate to by understanding the nature of the book. I collect hardback, first-edition books, preferably autographed by the author. I read trade paperbacks. I enjoy reading. I consider reading to be a leisure. I read lying down with a drink and music playing in the background. Every time I pick up a hardback I feel like I’m expending effort or studying for a class. The paperback can be twisted and folded, beat up and bent to fit in an already overstuffed backpack. The hardback book is rigid and defined; you must work within the confines of its shape.
The e-book is none of these things. The e-book is a guilty pleasure, to be hidden behind a spreadsheet at work. It’s is something you do when you should be balancing your bank account online. A great e-book keeps you coming back for more. See, you don’t stay up all night, curled up at your computer desk or with your laptop propped on your chest as you stay awake to read one more chapter. E-books are like the box of tasty treats you buy from the store, you eat one and then you come back later and eat another one, as it’s individually packaged and sold together. Try to eat the whole box in one sitting and you’ll get sick. I read Flash Fortune over a two-week period. This reading took place at work and home and also while I did other things. While I am somtimes reluctant to take a break with my work and stop to say read a magazine or a book for a while. The e-book edition of Flash Fortune complimented my hectic work schedule: I would work on projects and then alt-tab to the novel, read a chapter, and go back to work. This form of leisurely reading was excellent.
Is Flash Fortune a good book? I don’t know again, I didn’t read the book, I read the e-book. If Flash Fortune were a book I’d probably be annoyed that it was too short and didn’t do more with the characters or all the plot elements that it introduced. This is a compliment to the writer, though. While in its online presentation Flash Fortune is 220 pages long, I could easily see reading a physical book, with the same story and characters, twice as long. I like a good thick book, and I don’t mind wandering where the author wants to take me, but as an e-book presentation, Flash Fortune lacks nothing. With each chapter I am left with a feeling that I want to know more, that I don’t want to leave where the previous chapter was going. Much like the way we dismiss bestsellers, fiction and non-fiction alike, as being “vacation novels” or books which will not be remembered, Flash Fortune feels and reads very much like a dimestore pulp novel. A quirky storyline with odd characters, a strong short-story-like chapter arrangement and its e-book presentation all work in favor of this novel. In its texture, it very much reminds me of the lighter, frenchless and hip ensemble noir that Elmore Leonard writes with abandon today. It is also reminiscent of the first book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which was in fact published as a serial before it was assembled as the book we read today.
Hayes writes well on the Vegas gambling scene, setting things up for a great book about gamblers and hustles. The meat of the story revolves around Clark Gambado, an expert card dealer who is enlisted by his big brother and his larcenous gang to work a long-term hustle. The elements of the hustle as they are explained are guaranteed, refrained, and sure to work. This plot is derailed, however, when the gang pushes for greed and the short-term gain, sacrifcing Clark’s career and his brother’s life, and marking the gang for death.
Clark holes up in despair and skips his brother’s funeral. Eventually though he finds himself being haunted hy his brother’s ghost, who sits around the apartment flinging hundred-dollar chips from the casino heist at Clark, telling the distraught Clark to get back with the gang. Clark, at his wit’s end, goes to a fortune teller just for kicks, mind you to have his tarot read. Here the story changes again, and Clark finds the inspiration to work a new heist. In his newfound manic desperation, he thinks big and targets the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes for the scam of scams. Hijinks ensue as Clark is reunited with the gang only to find that the terrible luck which ended his career and his brother is taking its toll on the rest of the gang.
Within the context of comparison, which every author both dreads and revels in, you can again thank Elmore Leonard and even Quentin Tarantino who also thanks Elmore Leonard for the era of the quirky ensemble piece. You usuallly find these stories filled with strange plots and chronological tinkering to help and build plot elements. Todd Hayes throws his hat into the ebook ring with this supernatural heist story which reads quick and feel like a modern pulp novel, The ebook interface is also two-fisted, giving hyperlink trivia and redirected information to various online websites.
The experience of reading material online or via computer is limiting, as again, reading on a computer is taxing. But Hayes does an excellent job of keeping each chapter of Flash Fortune similar in size and pace, there is a similar build up to each chapter, and this repetitive pacing works to the advantage of the material, mostly because you come back to a consistent rhythm with each reading. It’s also hard to not come back to Flash Fortune because each chapter closes like a cliffhanger and eggs you on to come back to read where it will go next.
The AddieBook interface is built around a viewing screen which displays a inked hand holding a glass ball. Inside this glass ball images appear when you hang your cursor over highlighted text. When the text is selected it will take you to various online sites, relating to the piece. The interface is crisp and easily readable. Each chapter has a simple black and white art piece to open the reading. The backdrop is a mild tan color, which is easy on the eyes The font is Times New Roman, slightly bolded with a easy twelve point font. Most browsers will allow you to view your font larger or smaller if you want and Flash Fortune‘s interface is compatible with this. There is an opportunity to give more data then a book would make possible. I give the Addiebook high praise for it’s non-distracting and clean interface. If a ebook fails to take into account its surroundings it is a disappointing read. Static e-books which only convey text are fine for research, for pleasurable reading you need something more. The Addiebook interface is comfortable and addictive. This is the best interface I’ve ever seen in the presentation of e-books.
This is all very important. E-books are different. Flash Fortune is one of about a hundred books I have read online within a ten-year period, and so trust me when I say that the interface is at least as important as the plot. Todd Hayes and the Addiebook people know this, which is why it will be worth the reader’s time to check out the novels they offer in the future.