How Novel: Forget Amazon’s Kindle; Read Books on Your Cell Phone

February 5, 2008 at 9:37 am

Imagine a long, melodramatic text message conversation filled with abbreviations and emoticons and you have a pretty good idea what keitai shosetsu is: novel-sized stories composed entirely on cell phones by amateur authors. What these Japanese writers (most of them young women, in their late teens to early 20s) lack in experience they make up for in brisk style. The addictive, tear-jerking tales are short on description, but long on drama and trauma. Heavily influenced by manga and graphic novels, the dialogue is quick and to the point and characterization is very light. Constant thumb-scrolling and tapping is required as each “page” has little room for text. The authors (who all go by single names, such as Yoshi, Rin, and Mika) tackle emotionally fraught issues like rape, pregnancy, death, failed romance, and prostitution – and, most importantly, overcoming all of the above.

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I first heard about keitai shosetsu last year from the Galleycat publishing blog, and last month, articles also popped up in New York Times, London Times and Time Magazine. I think reporters are both curious about and disturbed by the phenomenon. It’s very tough for western literati to understand why anyone would want to read or write a full-length novel on a cell phone; surely the fall of civilization is at hand!

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Then again, maybe not. It’s important to note that just because the stories start out on cell phones (where authors don’t earn anything), doesn’t mean they stay that way. Ever since Yoshi’s keitai shosetsu title “Deep Love” was published in traditional book form in 2002, selling 2.5 million copies and spawning a film and TV show, other cell phone novels have followed. One of the most successful is probably “Love Sky” (Koizora) by a young woman named Mika. In its original form, “Love Sky” was read by 20 million people on cell phones or computers, and when it was republished in book form, it became Japan’s top selling novel of 2007. It was also adapted into a movie. New cell phone books are downloadable from sites like Bunko Yomihodai (which offers a “library reading spree!”)

 

Sarah S.

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