1/18/09

Why mess with a good thing?

Mention reading ebooks and most people give you a dill-pickle face reaction. Then they take a deep breath and I know what's coming. Before the first vibrations cross the space between their vocal chords and my eardrum, the words they will say reverberate like a stuck loop in my brain:

"But I love the feel of a paper book, of turning the pages. You can't get that from electronic books."

I'm reminded of my grandfather's arguments about the superiority of horse over horseless carriage, and how the horse instinctively knew every stop along his mail route.

"You can't get that from a car," he said.

My grandmother had a similar argument against the telephone: "Why would you want to shout at each other through a contraption when you could sit down with a nice pen and pretty stationary and write out a lovely letter. You get something beautiful that you can keep. You can't get that on a telephone."

[Author's note: I'm not as old as this makes me sound, but my parents (like their parents), believed in waiting as long as possible before trying something out. That included having children.]

They weren't early adopters. They were the last hold outs. They were right. And yet, cars replaced horses because they evolved and provided services you couldn't get from a horse. Phone calls replaced letter writing because they provided qualities that couldn't be delivered on paper.

Take this ebook conversation a step further, beyond "e" to "I", into immersive fiction. Imagine books that do more than lay in your lap, books that do things, books that make you do things, books you could do things to, books part real and part virtual. Imagine a book where the reader is part of the story. Imagine chatting with a character about the way they could solve their problems. You can't get that on paper.

We're still at the crossover stage, trying to make books that fit both forms. Here are three ebooks that experiment with providing more than a story and in the process serve up material delivered by fiction that you could use in your real world.

Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton

This was a funny paranormal with plenty of suspense. While I'm completely inept when it comes to knitting, I enjoyed reading all the added knitting content included at the back of the book.

Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs

The recipes included in at the beginning of various chapters of the book looked delicious. The extra content blended nicely with the story. I liked the way they dropped the recipes in between chapters.

Unmasked by Nicola Cornick

This is an historical romance. I've read a few historicals, but never felt particularly motivated to search the meaning of terms like ton or to look up White's. Thanks to links provided in the book I was able to learn some of the history behind standard terms and places found in historical romance novels. A great story about "a female Robin Hood."

The last in these three examples is the only one that couldn't be delivered as efficiently in print, but the other two stories motivate readers to take something from the book and create something beautiful with it in their life. All three stories straddle dimensions between real and virtual. As these stories demonstrate, a story turns immersive when it motivates a reader to: act, create, learn.

I love these experiments. I love watching what books become. I believe as another innovative publisher has said:

Exploring What Digital Books Can Be: We believe digital books can be a larger canvas from which immersive experiences explode.
Sourcebooks

Why mess with a good thing? Because that is how you get something new and something challenging. I wouldn't say I'm an early adopter. I'm not a last hold out. I'm one of the pioneers. So let's explore. Let's find the next dimension.


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