Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Future of Fiction

I was reading an article this weekend on the growing amount of book applications for iPhone and iPad. I’ll start off by telling you that I am definitely not a fan of electronic devices such as Kindle, Nook or Ipad that replace books, the horror. They do make it easier to carry several books with you which I often do, they provide less clutter and can be neatly tucked away but they’ll never be able to give you that warm and fuzzy feeling that cradling a new book gives you. I’m sorry to say, but a touch screen will never beat the infinite bliss of curling up on the couch with a colorful, multilayered and textured object full of longing and anticipation, being a book (not an iPad).

Besides giving you the occasional paper cut, books have a history, a soul and can be passed on or cherished for many years to come in your own private library which for me is a place peace and tranquility filled with memories and beloved fictional friends. Staring at a bright screen just doesn’t cut it for me. Call me old fashioned but I’ll always prefer the unbridled quantity and chaos of my bookshelves to a Kindle, despite its efficiency. I’ll never be the hip technological minimalist these objects were designed for. Give me some decadence, madness and mess any day of the week.

Despite my reservations, I have to admit that I’m slightly intrigued by the contemporary concept of the book application which offers you extensive background and author information. Seeing as I am a soon to be member of the book trade, I believe that it’s my duty to explore the future of fiction.

The iBooks app on iPad is currently the most advanced offering you a virtual bookshelf filled with the book jackets of virtual books and pages that curl and turn like paper pages. Turn the iPad horizontally and the book on the screen instantly shows left and right pages. Turn it vertically and there’s a single long page. You can even hear the pages turning by flicking the screen, tiny details designed for making you forget that you are holding and manipulating a ‘book’ made of glass and metal.

One of the most talked about apps of the moment is the iBooks app of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which is often referred to as a thing of beauty. It contains the text, family trees of the Tudors and the Yorkists, extra articles by Mantel and a video discussion between the novelist and historian David Starkey, all designed to give you a deeper and richer understanding of the novel's historical context and its characters. I, on the other hand, just used Google. Sure, an app offers you more in depth information and less time is wasted browsing frequently irrelevant websites but the thrill of the chase is irrevocably vanquished.

This new medium does however, offer authors some challenging and creative new potential. The days of simply cramming your text in an e-reader are over. E-books are getting make-overs and are being equipped with illustrations, video’s and even games making them interactive and more appealing to a younger crowd. This is also why a lot of authors and publishers are going back to the drawing board to create modern day masterpieces to lure you over to the dark side.

As I said, I am intrigued and aware of the potential but… books never go out of style, they are durable, their batteries don’t run out and you can pretend to be an intellectual by reading Crime and Punishment on the train. Reading the iBooks version will probably induce a completely different perception: Oh Ipad, instead Wow Dostoevsky.

Then there are the hybrids such as Mobile Art Lab's PhoneBook, which combines the iPhone with an ordinary book. The iPhone is placed inside the covers of a picture book and as you turn the page, you simultaneously turn the page on the iPhone to reveal interactive imagery. Interesting combination that enhances the REAL reading experience so I’m all for this one.

What it boils down to ultimately, is finding new ways of telling stories, something that is vital to mankind. Stories are everywhere, not just in books and e-readers but in movies, music, even games. Books are just the age old manifestations of beloved and ethereal delights so my skepticism towards e-readers may have been slightly misplaced as they do maintain the tradition. I just can’t help but love being able to hold the actual story / book / ever changing and bewildering receptacle in my hands. It’s just a matter of taste, I guess.

Although the medium may be changing, the concept remains. I truly believe that books will never be a distant memory but considering these technological advances I suggest that booksellers should emphasize on selling stories, no matter what form they might come in.

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