The Curious Incident of the Kindle Single in the Day-Time

March 12, 2013
"Swimming and Flying," by Mark Haddon, is the latest Kindle Single.
“Swimming and Flying,” by Mark Haddon, is the latest Kindle Single.

Mark Haddon, author of the bestselling novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” is the latest big-name writer to release a Kindle Single.

Swimming and Flying” went on sale Monday, March 11, for 99 cents. The 24-page essay began as a pair of talks that Haddon performed several times last year. It’s a format he calls “stand-up serious.”

In a leisurely style, Haddon swings between anecdotes from his life and reflections on philosophical and literary issues. “I was, until recently, infatuated with the work of David Foster Wallace,” he writes. “I’m in remission now.” But you can still see the imprint of Wallace’s expansive, casually cerebral approach.

Along the way, Haddon quotes from Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau and other writers, and he makes several references to how much the American space program once filled him with awe. 

Self-effacing and candid, the 50-year-old English writer confesses his fear of swimming as a child and his fear of flying as an adult. On one particularly anxious trip home from Italy, he had to be comforted by a flight attendant as he sobbed in the back of the plane. (He also reveals how bored he was by the lengthy book tour for “Curious Incident.”)

But the essay’s best passages describe his work as a teacher. Along with practical advice about using specific details and letting the reader’s imagination work, Haddon demonstrates how to keep a writing class active and engaging.

The structure and content of “Swimming and Flying” are too sophisticated for most high schoolers, but older students and English teachers — and anyone who enjoys the play of a graceful subjective essay — will find this inspiring.

Amazon began offering Kindle Singles two years ago. The e-format for texts longer than a typical magazine article but shorter than a novel has been embraced by Stephen King and Susan Orlean among others.

You can follow me on Twitter @RonCharles.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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