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RIP Alan Sillitoe – A Favorite of Mine, and a Litmus Test for the Backlist Reach of eBooks

The novelist and shorter fiction writer Alan Sillitoe died today at London’s Charing Cross Hospital. His dazzlingly spare 1959 barely-a-novella The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and its triumphant 1962 film adaptation (Sillitoe screenplay, Tony Richardson direction, Tom Courtenay in the title role) wrestled existential rage and emotional identity out of the stark realities of post-war working class life and changed my life, among many, many others, in ways that made it both harder and better.

The BBC’s obit and the Wikipedia entry are well worth a read. I didn’t much like the turns that Sillitoe’s personal politics took after his success as a novelist, but that never kept me from seeing his fiction as, in a number of ways, heroic and inspirational.

When J.D. Salinger died a while back some of us lamented not only his passing but the sad fact that his books are not yet available in the Kindle Store or otherwise as ebooks. That gaping hole is obvious, I should think.

But Sillitoe? His work remains well worth reading today, and in the way I see things, his inclusion in the Kindle catalog, when it occurs, will be a fair litmus test for the coming-of-age of that catalog on the way to its promise to do justice to backlist titles and, in the long run, live up to Amazon’s recently restated mission to make it possible for readers to download every book ever written in any language within 60 seconds. We’re a long way from that point today, and it will not come to pass without the active efforts of publishers and authors as well as ebook retailers. Keep on.

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