Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader: E-books for Fun and Prophet
Walking around the Texas Book Festival in Austin, it would be easy to believe that e-books didn’t exist. In all the rows of authors signing their works, the tents where local booksellers and small press publishers hawk their wares, the bigger publisher stalls and their stacks of books, you don’t see any mention of e-readers. No stall demonstrating the latest tech, no panel pushing the latest models. Even the Barnes & Noble tent stocked full of books for the author signings showed not so much as a poster for The Nook.
Frankly, I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Everyone seemed pretty happy. Me being me, it was hard not to contemplate a slightly sinister course of events in which the first person to whip out his iPhone in order to sneak in a chapter or two would find himself subjected to a first person re-enactment of Shirley Jackson’s, “The Lottery.”
I only witnessed one person break ranks, with some pretty interesting results. During the panel on genre, Charles Yu, author of How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, was asked a question about enhanced e-books by an audience member. In a surprise move, Yu turned the question over to the moderator, editor Tim O’Connell.
O’Connell began speaking with the kind of fervency that makes you lean forward. This isn’t the usual PR stuff; he’s a believer. “Right now it’s still in a state where people are just sort of, I mean it’s the DVD Extras. But once it goes past there it is going to be fabulous.”
You might recall that I covered the issue of e-book enhancements in an early Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader and came away mixed, with the conclusion that enhanced books got it wrong as often as they got it right. At the end of the article I took a “wait and see” approach to the technology. Turns out it was O’Connell’s viewpoint I was waiting for.
“We made the first enhanced e-book for the Knopf Doubleday Group. We did it by trolling YouTube, Vimeo, writing to people with blogs and clearing rights for videos. I mean we even have a music video at some point in the enhanced version. Charlie was running around LA taking pictures of various places that he had mentioned in the novel. My voice makes an appearance as a person calling one of the characters. The Publicist is also TAMMY (the software that runs the time machine in the book).”
O’Connell continued, “I think it’s interesting from a publishing perspective what is happening with e-books….You see what we did with How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe is that we actually enhanced it. It wasn’t like, “Hey let’s throw a clip back here of somebody talking.” No, we made it so it enhanced the narrative. And once people start using those tools and start writing for those types of devices with that type of multimedia capability in terms of crafting the narrative, then it’s going to get really interesting.”
I have to admit that last part really struck me. Right now we’re all looking at e-readers as a port, a platform for books. What’s going to happen to the generation growing up that will have no such bias? To whom an e-reader will be just as natural, if not more so than a book. In other words, the group that won’t be writing books that happen to end up on e-readers, but will be writing e-books as a primary goal. What are they going to produce?
“It’s going to open up storytelling to a whole new level, I think.” O’Connell concluded, before briefly pausing and adding, “And you’re still going to have the option to just read the book itself.”
Lets hope so.
What are your Thoughts on the future of e-books? Will enhancements improve the quality of the narrative?
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