We love them, we hate them, we’re frightened of them. Some think they’ll kill the book. Others think they’ll save it. Team E-Book & Team Book-Book may regularly clash, but I think one thing is clear: e-books aren’t going away anytime soon.
Lately, I’ve been reading several books at once–Shades of Grey (Jasper Fforde; my latest review title) and Dreamsongs II (George R.R. Martin) in print, The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) and The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner) on my Kindle. Much as I love reading print novels, I’ve found that I finish e-novels sooner.
Team Book-Book: A Sensory Experience
For me, reading print books is about more than the written word. I love about the feel of the pages beneath my fingers and the slightly acidic new book smell that lingers long after I’ve cracked a title. For many books, especially those with enticing dust jackets, I’m constantly waiting for the a-ha! moment, the moment when I realize the significance of a cover illustration or untangle the clues in a book’s back cover copy.
I read quickly–pre-baby, I could finish up to three books in a day, particularly since I’m happy to lose sleep when there’s a good story to be had. Now, I read in short snatches of time–when the kidlet has dozed off for a while, when I’m stirring something on the stove (the book rests in a cookbook holder lest I drop it into a pot). When I read with the kidlet on my lap or snuggled onto my chest, I have to balance the book on the arm of a chair, or against propped up knees. (If I get my knees positioned just right, Mir’s feet hold the pages open for me.)
Each time I pick up my latest book, I scrutinize the cover for a moment, then riffle through to my spot. As I read, I’m very aware of the book itself, and I pay attention to grammar, spelling, sentence construction, plot reveals etc., making mental notes as I go, and summarizing them later, when I can reach my MacBook (no, I didn’t add the caps–Pages did it for me). Enjoying the story is still a big part of reading, but I have trouble letting go of work, particularly since most of the books I read inform my reviewing or writing in some way.
Team E-book: Words Alone
I resisted reading on the Kindle at first. I hate animated page turns, I hate the coolness of most metals (I love to be warm), and I hated the idea of losing my beloved new book smell. But when I did start reading on it (about 2 hours after Joe pressed it into my hot little hands), it was warm, light, and, best of all, easy. Within moments, I was lost in The Obernewtyn Chronicles.
At first, I missed all the sensory details paired with reading a print book. But the longer I read, the less I noticed the lack of pages and scent. In fact, the more I read on the Kindle, more absorbed I become–I can’t flick back to the cover or be distracted by drawing parallels between the synopsis and where I am in the story. Grammar, sentence construction &c. fall away in favor of the plot, and the plot alone–I make many fewer notes, even though it’s easier to do (the Kindle, like most e-readers, has an easy-access annotation function). All that remains are the words, the story, and the characters–my interpretation of the characters, that is. In the absence of cover art (some Kindle books have covers, but I haven’t seen any so far) I’m forced to imagine more, and I find I’m quite enjoying it.
It’s possible that Kindle reading is making me lazy and single-minded (insofar as a new mother can ever be single-minded). After all, it’s harder to rouse me from reading on my Kindle, and, while turning pages isn’t exactly a calorie-scorcher, it does force me to move more than the thumb clicks required by the Kindle. And, as a writer and reviewer, it’s important I continue note-taking and analyzing what I read. That said, it’s pleasant to relax into a book, and read for the sake of reading. So far, I compromise my reading “me” books on the Kindle, and everything else in print.
Of course, the immersion that comes with reading on the Kindle only works for simple, word-only e-readers. App-books like those Penguin recently demoed for the iPad are far too interactive for focused reading–the temptation of reading someone else’s margin comments or stopping to chat with a friend will be far too great for most readers (myself included). It’s likely that the iPad will also feature video content (along the lines of Barnes & Noble’s vook), providing ready-made-no-need-to-fire-up-the-imagination-muscles characters.
Few teens I know have access to a Kindle or other e-reader (though the Cushing Academy may be changing that). Many do read online, though, as easily as they read in print. Do they find e-books easier to read?
But will e-books help teens read deeper, the way the Kindle does for me? If e-ink and electronic paper remain the order of the day, probably. And to some extent, publishers are betting on it. More and more titles, particularly YA titles, are hitting the virtual shelves (though some houses continue to publish e-books with a delay). According to Jack Gantos, a professor of children’s literature and Farrar, Straus & Giroux’s first teen e-book author, “We’ve reached the tipping point—the technology is in the school, the kids know how to use it. It just makes sense.”
FSG’s VP and director of marketing Laurie Brown agrees.“We think kids have less resistance to reading on their computers.”
In an October 2009 report, PW notes that,
”When we asked about their affection for a digital reading device for fun reading (not schoolwork) if the price were affordable, 46% said they preferred printed books. Another 38% said they would like one, and 16% indicated they were not sure how they felt about this.
When asked if they’d like to read textbooks as e-books, they were evenly split, with 36% saying yes, 33% saying they were not sure, and 31% saying they would not be interested.
Nearly one-quarter (24%) have read an e-book, while 27% would like to read one. Almost half (49%) said they have no interest in reading e-books.
When asked how they have read an e-book, 26% have done so on a computer while 33% used a dedicated digital reading device and 5% used another method. Seven out of 10 (71%) say they have never read one.”
Although these findings may suggest YA readers are uninterested in e-books, I think it’s important to note that these statistics are higher than the adult adoption/interest in e-readers. Moreover, with the proliferation of iPhone apps and the like for younger children, it’s likely the number of teens reading e-books will increase fairly quickly over the next few years (my kidlet does not have any iPhone apps, but he does have his own toy iPhone).
Are you on Team Book-Book or Team E-book? Do you use an e-reader? How do you read on it? Are print books just words, or a full experience?
Read more of my thoughts on the Kindle & other e-readers:
- Penguin & the iPad: Taking Books to the Next Level, or Leaving them in the Dust?
- Amazon vs. Apple: the War on E-book Pricing and the YA Market
- Book Love & the Kindle: a Match Made in Purgatory?
Image via Amazon
Dystopias may be the hot YA trend right now, but cyberpunk (and its bosom buddy, steampunk) is on the rise. In fact, you may have read some YA cyberpunk without even realizing it–books with a high level of technobabble but a low standard of living, like The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Kaimira: Sky Village (Nigel Ashland, Monk Ashland), The Softwire Series (P.J. Haarsma), and Little Brother (Cory Doctorow).
What is Cyberpunk?
There’s a lot of debate over when exactly cyberpunk started, but most fans agree it began in the early eighties with the Bruce Berthke story aptly titled Cyberpunk. The genre didn’t really take off, though, until the 90s, with novels such as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, William Gibson’s Neuromancer. (Several authors–such as Bruce Sterling and Pat Cadigan–were publishing cyberpunk in the 80s; sadly, it was largely unnoticed by general science fiction audiences).
But what exactly is cyberpunk? It’s kind of hard to pin down. Although it’s clearly a subgenre of science fiction, cyberpunk often moonlights as dystopic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Protagonists are usually misfits, smart (and precocious), anti-social (even verging on a-social), and outside the law/government in some way (anti-heroes are also popular–but that’s another post). But instead of focusing on extreme conditions in a far, far away future, cyberpunk authors tend to play with current technological ideas, bumping them up a couple of steps to ask the seminal writerly question: what if?
Cyberpunk is, by its nature, anti-utopian (William Gibson’s short story, The Gernsback Continuum digs into some of the reasons why). But instead of just setting up a dystopic world and depending on suspension of disbelief, good cyberpunk forces the reader to ask questions and scratch about for answers. Consider The Hunger Games (I’d say consider Catching Fire, too, but I haven’t read it yet)–throughout the book, Katniss articulates our questions, asking why the Capitol is the way it is, why its citizens are unhappy, why Gale rages and shouts when he’s trapped in District 12 unable to help.
Another common theme in cyberpunk is the manipulated situation–also a la The Hunger Games. In Kaimira: Sky Village, Mei and Breaker are each thrust into settings against their will–Mei because her father leaves her with the Sky Dwellers, Breaker because he has to help Riley. The story is full of mecha and tech detail, and the characters’ facility with mecha is a key plot point. Both books, though, are often labeled dystopia.
But cyberpunk shares elements with more than just science fiction novels. Unsurprisingly, it’s often very post-modernist, and some works have a very film noir feel. Matrix-like, some stories play with the connection between the mind and virtual reality, a particularly relevant theme just now.
Why Not Just Call it Science Fiction?
Part of the allure of cyberpunk–and dystopic fiction–is the name. Science fiction conjures images of pasty, pimpled, bespectacled mole people who watch the same episode of Star Trek until they’ve nailed not just Spock’s lines, but his inflections, too. (No disrespect, Trek lovers: I’ve watched all 5 series and the movies. Undiscovered Country is my favorite. Hurrah for even numbers.) Telling your friends you read cyberpunk or dystopic fiction makes readers sound not just cool, but intellectual and cutting edge, particularly since poliitco-social themes are common in both.
Breaking up science fiction, though, means that we (authors and readers) are less likely to move beyond a core group of titles. Although readers of dystopic fic may love more cyberpunk geared titles, they’re unlikely to pick them up; post-apocalyptic fans are less likely to rifle through the dystopia shelves.
Why Cyberpunk makes good YA
Although it’s easy to get bogged down in setting, the key to cyberpunk, like most good fiction, is its characters. Characters are also, to my mind, the most important part of good YA. So why do cyberpunk protagonists make good YA?
Belonging & Rebellion
Pretty much all cyberpunk protagonists are non-conformist in some way. Some are outright rebels; few (if any–I certainly can’t come up with anything) have a sense of belonging. Many also feel manipulated (with good reason) and misunderstood. While few teens are forced into arena to battle it out with mechanical robot extensions of themselves, most will recognize parts of their lives in Breaker’s story, and relate to his emotions.
This is how I think of the current crop of kids and teens, the ones who’ve grown up with fast computers and the internet. Older folk (like me–my 29 year old brain is already past it!), no matter how intent on learning, will never speak tech with the same ease as today’s kids and teens (the same will be true of their kids, and so on and so on, until we hit the Zombocalypse). Cyberpunk protagonists are usually in the same boat–they’re computer geniuses, hackers, neurally jacked, &c. &c. &c.
Just about everyone and their irate ferret has an opinion on climate change. And while all those irate ferrets may not agree it’s real, most of us can agree that the world has a lot of problems–problems we’re passing onto our teens. Like dystopias, many cyberpunk novels deal with very timely issues (including reality tv, climate change, and social media), pushing the boundaries and forcing readers to wonder if such scenarios could actually happen (a world ruled by irate ferrets and their Dalek minions? Totally). Most cyberpunk novels, even the hardcore tech ones, often present futures with eerie echoes of not just today, but recognizable–believable–predictions for tomorrow.
Do you read cyberpunk? YA or adult? Do you like it? What did you think of The Hunger Games, Little Brother, and Kaimira: Sky Village? If you’re looking for some good YA cyberpunk, check out my recent list.
Never heard of cyberpunk? It’s a subgenre of science fiction, a blending of “high tech” and “low life”. Although it’s not hot right now, cyberpunk and dystopias have a lot in common (think The Hunger Games, or Kaimira: Sky Village). But where dystopias are more general (what if the government took control? what if a plague wiped out half the population?), cyberpunk plays with scientific what-ifs in the context of a greater dystopic world. And although not specifically geared toward YA readers, many cyberpunk novels–like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash–speak to the teen in all of us.
Some of these titles are marketed as straight out YA (marked with a *); the rest are considered adult lit, but are easily crossover.
1. SNOW CRASH, Neal Stephenson
In California of the near future, when the U.S. is only a “Burbclave” (city-state), the Mafia is just another franchise chain (CosaNostrastet Pizza, Incorporated) and there are no laws to speak of, Hiro Protagonist follows clues from the Bible, ancient Sumer and high technology to help thwart an attempt to take control of civilization–such as it is. When he logs on to Metaverse, an imaginary place entered via computer, Hiro encounters Juanita Marquez, a “radical” Catholic and computer whiz. She warns him off Snow Crash (a street drug named for computer failure) and gives him a file labeled Babel (as in Tower of Babel). Another friend, sp ok/pk Da5id, who ignores Juanita’s warning, computer crashes out of Metaverse into the real world, where he physically collapses. Hiro, Juanita, Y.T. (a freewheeling, skateboard-riding courier) and sundry other Burbclave and franchise power figures see some action on the way to finding out who is behind this bizarre “drug” with ancient roots. Although Stephenson ( Zodiac ) provides more Sumerian culture than the story strictly needs (alternating intense activity with scholarship breaks), his imaginative juxtaposition of ancient and futuristic detail could make this a cult favorite.–PW
2. HALTING STATE, Charles Stross
Starred Review. This brilliantly conceived techno-crime thriller spreads a black humor frosting over the grim prospect of the year 2012, when China, India and the European System are struggling for world economic domination in an infowar, and the U.S. faces bankruptcy over its failing infrastructure. Sgt. Sue Smith of Edinburgh’s finest, London insurance accountant Elaine Barnaby and hapless secret-ridden programmer Jack Reed peel back layer after layer of a scheme to siphon vast assets from Hayek Associates, a firm whose tentacles spread into international economies. The theft is routed through Avalon Four, a virtual reality world complete with supposedly robbery-proof banks. As an electronic intelligence agency trains innocent gamers to do its dirty work, Elaine sets Jack to catch the poacher. Hugo-winner Stross (Glasshouse) creates a deeply immersive story, writing all three perspectives in the authoritative second-person style of video game instructions and gleefully spiking the intrigue with virtual Orcs, dragons and swordplay. The effortless transformation of today’s technological frustrations into tomorrow’s nightmare realities is all too real for comfort.–PW
3. NEUROMANCER, William Gibson
Here is the novel that started it all, launching the cyberpunk generation, and the first novel to win the holy trinity of science fiction: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Philip K. Dick Award. With , William Gibson introduced the world to cyberspace–and science fiction has never been the same. Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway–jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills. Then he double-crossed the wrong people, who caught up with him in a big way–and burned the talent out of his brain, micron by micron. Banished from cyberspace, trapped in the meat of his physical body, Case courted death in the high-tech underworld. Until a shadowy conspiracy offered him a second chance–and a cure–for a price…. –Amazon
4. DIASPORA, Greg Egan
By the year 2975, humanity has wandered down several widely divergent evolutionary paths. “Flesher” life is that which resides in a basically human body, though genetically engineered mutations have created communication problems throughout the species. In the “polises,” meanwhile, disembodied but self-aware artificial intelligences procreate, interact, make art and attempt to solve life’s mathematical mysteries. Then there are the “gleisners,” which are conscious, flesher-shaped robots run by self-aware software that is linked directly to the physical world through hardware. Throughout, Egan (Distress) follows the progress of Yatima, an orphan spontaneously generated by the non-sentient software of the Konishi polis. Yatima gains self-awareness, meets with Earthly fleshers and, when tragedy strikes, becomes personally involved in the greatest search for species survival ever undertaken. Though the novel often reads like a series of tenuously connected graduate theses and lacks the robust drama and characterizations of good fiction, fans of hard SF that incorporates higher mathematics and provocative hypotheses about future evolution are sure to be fascinated by Egan’s speculations.–PW
5. THE SOFTWIRE SERIES, PJ Haarsma *
Johnny Turnbull has spent all of his 12 years aboard the seed-ship Renaissance en route to the Rings of Orbis. Due to a mechanical problem, the adults on the spaceship perished long before Johnny and the other young passengers were born (they were stored as embryos and raised by the ship’s computer). When they arrive on Orbis 1, the orphans quickly learn that they will be forced to work for the Guarantors (alien businessmen) in order to pay off their dead parents’ debt for their passage. Johnny is immediately identified as the first human softwire, someone with the ability to enter and manipulate a computer with his mind. Because of his gift, he is a prime suspect when the central computer of Orbis 1 begins to malfunction. He must prove his innocence and solve the mystery of the mechanical failures before time runs out. The author deftly introduces the futuristic setting without getting bogged down in long and detailed descriptive passages, and the brisk plot will keep the interest of reluctant readers. Although a few of the secondary characters are not fully developed, Johnny and his sister are well drawn, and the scenes between the two are skillfully crafted. The first in a planned quartet, this book is a good selection for science-fiction fans.–Melissa Christy Buron, Epps Island Elementary, Houston, TX for School Library Journal
6. KAIMIRA: THE SKY VILLAGE, Monk Ashland & Nigel Ashland *
In a future world devastated by the Trinary Wars, human beings battle for supremacy with beasts and intelligent machines called meks. Though they have never met and live half a world apart, 12-year-old Mei and 13-year-old Rom communicate through their respective copies of the fabulous, interactive Tree Book, inhabited (or possessed?) by something calling itself Animus. The kids’ body chemistry also contains something odd—the Kaimira Gene, which means that their human genes are intermixed with mek and beast elements. Talk about multiple-personality disorder! The first volume of a planned five-book series, this title is short on characterization and long on plot complications. It’s also as much a hybrid as Mei and Rom, part book, part online opportunity; the title contains a mini-packet of appended matter that guides readers to a companion Web site, where they’ll find fun and games, including an interactive online community and behind-the-scenes glimpses. Kids will be tantalized, but adults will probably throw up their hands. Move over, Brave New World. –Michael Cart for Booklist
7. THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
In a surprising departure from the traditional view of cyberpunk’s bleak future, Gibson ( Mona Lisa Overdrive ) and Sterling ( Islands in the Net ) render with elan and colorful detail a scientifically advanced London, circa 1855, where computers (“Engines”) have been developed. Fierce summer heat and pollution have driven out the ruling class, and ensuing anarchy allows the subversive, technology-hating Luddites to surface and battle the intellectual elite. Much of the problem centers on a set of perforated cards, once in the possession of an executed Luddite leader’s daughter, later in the hands of “Queen of Engines” Ada Byron (daughter of prime minister Lord Byron), finally given to Edward Mallory, a scientist. Mallory, who knows the cards are a gambling device that can be read with a specialized Engine, is soon threatened and libeled by the Luddites, and he and his associates confront the scoundrels in a violent showdown. A sometimes listless pace and limp conclusions that defy the plot’s complexity flaw an otherwise visionary, handsomely written, unsentimental tale that convincingly revises the 19th-century Western world.–PW
8. KILN PEOPLE, David Brin
Bestselling novelist Brin (Startide Rising; The Postman; etc.) restricts the action to planet Earth, but still allows his imagination to roam the cosmos in this ambitious SF/mystery hybrid whose grasp occasionally exceeds its reach. Thanks to the new technology of imprinting, people in a near-future America can copy their personalities into animated clay bodies (called “dittos” or “golems”), which last a single day. Albert Morris, private investigator, is his own sidekick as he attempts to uncover the murderer of a prominent imprinting research scientist, capture a criminal mastermind specializing in ditto the major ditto manufacturer and pinning the blame on several Alberts. Brin deftly explores the issues of identity, privacy and work in a world where everyone is supported with a living wage and has ready access to duplication technology. The book features the author’s usual style, with a lighter touch and punnish humor abounding amid the hard SF speculation. The duplication of the “ditective” makes for a challenging twist on the standard private eye narrative, allowing Morris to simultaneously lead the reader through three separate (and interacting) plot lines. The hardboiled framework and the humor mix a bit uneasily, as does the social background of a libertarian/socialist U.S.A. The book’s major fault lies in the diffusion of most of the tension as expendable dittos replace vulnerable humans for much of the action. Still, the work is brightened by Brin’s trademark hardheaded optimism.–PW
9. SOFTWARE, Rudy Rucker
It was Cobb Anderson who built the “boppers”—the first robots with real brains. Now, in 2020, Cobb is just another aged “pheezer” with a bad heart, drinking and grooving an the old tunes in Florida retirement hell. His “bops” have came a long way, though, rebelling against their subjugation to set up their own society an the moon. And now they’re offering creator Cobb immortality but at a stiff price: his body his soul … and his world.It was Cobb Anderson who built the “boppers”—the first robots with real brains. Now, in 2020, Cobb is just another aged pheezer with a bad heart, drinking and grooving on the old tunes in Florida retirement hell. His “bops” have come a long way, though, rebelling against their subjugation to set up their own society on the moon. And now they re offering creator Cobb immortality, but at a stiff price: his body, his soul. . .and his world.–Back cover
10. DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? Philip K. Dick *
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was published in 1968. Grim and foreboding, even today it is a masterpiece ahead of its time. By 2021, the World War had killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remained coveted any living creature, and for people who couldn’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep. . . They even built humans. Emigrees to Mars received androids so sophisticated it was impossible to tell them from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans could wreak, the government banned them from Earth. But when androids didn’t want to be identified, they just blended in. Rick Deckard was an officially sanctioned bounty hunter whose job was to find rogue androids, and to retire them. But cornered, androids tended to fight back, with deadly results. –Paul Williams for Rolling Stone
11. THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins
In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old KatnissÆs young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining districtÆs female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives. CollinsÆs characters are completely realistic and sympathetic as they form alliances and friendships in the face of overwhelming odds; the plot is tense, dramatic, and engrossing. This book will definitely resonate with the generation raised on reality shows like Survivor and American Gladiator. Book one of a planned trilogy. Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK for School Library Journal
Earlier this week, Penguin CEO John Makinson debuted a concept video demonstrating some of the ways the house is planning on tapping the potential of Apple’s new iPad. With interfaces less like a book and more like an iPhone app, it’s clear the company is taking this new platform seriously.
John Makinson, from PaidContentUK:
We will be embedding audio, video and streaming in to everything we do. The .epub format, which is the standard for ebooks at the present, is designed to support traditional narrative text, but not this cool stuff that we’re now talking about.
So for the time being at least we’ll be creating a lot of our content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than in ebooks. The definition of the book itself is up for grabs. We don’t know whether a video introduction will be valuable to a consumer. We will only find answers to these questions by trial and error.
Directly Targeting Younger Readers
Several of Penguin’s innovations directly target younger readers–an e-version of Eric Hill’s Spot series takes lift-the-flap books to the next level. Soon, kids will be able to customize Spot’s look, help him tidy his room, and, of course, follow along with Spot’s mom as she looks in trunks, closets, and under the bed to find the mischievous little puppy. Page turns are easy, too–a simple finger swipe–making the books accessible to even the youngest readers.
Compared to the Kindle experience–text on one screen, grainy monochrome illustrations on the next–choosing the iPad as a kid-friendly reader is a no-brainer. But the $500 price tag is a lot for Baby’s First E-reader (unless you’re one of the glitterati, in which case the iPad probably costs less than Baby’s First Blanket). Fortunately, Penguin’s app-like offerings include interactive YA titles (Richelle’s Mead’s Vampire Academy features an in-text chat option), DK textbooks (with zoom, 3D view, and video), and DK travel guides (the screen switches to map view when placed on a table, then back to book view when help). DK’s Starfinder, once a go-to for learning to navigate the night sky, will navigate for users–use the compass function to help the iPad get its bearings, then point it at a section of sky and voila! detailed information about visible constellations appears onscreen.
As I’ve pointed out before, the iPad is a great halfway tool, offering teens the functionality of a laptop (and possibly more) for a fraction of the price. But will Penguin’s app model make books more accessible to kids and teens, or less?
Changing the Way Kids Read? Or Changing the Nature of a Book?
As any pediatrician will tell you, reading is a vital part of a child’s development. Reading helps form important neural connections, helps with language development and cognitive skills, and generally improves a child’s life. But the studies that support this revolve around a paper and ink model. If Penguin style app-books take off, some children could soon think Spot has always lived in Mummy’s iPad. But does this matter?
I’m not sure. I’ve always loved books–I’ve spent countless hours curled up among library shelves reading, enjoying the scent and press of musty old pages around me. My baby also loves reading–several times a day, he catches my eye, picks up a book (and yes, we have Spot books), holds it out, and waits. When I finish a page, he turns to the next one. When I finish a book, he reaches for another. Would he love books less is he swiped a finger across a screen instead of turning a page?
The iPad and Penguin’s new concept models still use the standard words on a page–they just include some interactivity. Chatting about a book while reading it is not a novel idea–school kids do it all the time (when I was in year 9, the rest of the class hated War of the Worlds so much the teacher had us each read a chapter and fill each other in). Being able to chat within a book is, as far as I can see, akin to reading cliff notes, encouraging teens to dig deeper into a text, and think about whys and hows of the story in much the same way as a good book review. This sort of functionality could even be adapted to school work, with teens reading, say, Macbeth, discussing it with their project group as they read, or leaving notes for one another on a shared meta-copy/open wiki.
Not all kids like to read–some find books boring, some are dyslexic, some just haven’t found the right book. The interactivity Penguins app-books offer (particularly the chat feature) may be the boost some teens need–where they once hung out on IM swapping thoughts about the day, they could soon hang out within a book, Jasper Fforde style. And Penguin’s app-books may be just the first of many. According to Makinson, Apple’s 30% take on app-revenue “is better than the equivalent print agency model, in which publishers let retailers keep 50 percent“.
The Essence of a Book
What makes a book a book? Much like the printing press, romances, and early novels, the iPad is forcing readers to think about what a book actually is. Although the Kindle, the Nook, and other e-readers have had their share of “you’re destroying my beloved books” rage, they’ve remained true to standard book format: words inked on a page. This is the way humans have read for thousands of years–Plato read words inked on a page the same way Baby reads words inked on a page.
But books are really just a delivery system, aren’t they? Before books, we still had information. Before books, we still had stories. Homer told stories from memory, using verbal cues to remind him of the next section, much as the original tellers of Beowulf probably did. Books simply gave us an easier way to remember what comes next, and a more efficient way to share it around. Once upon a time, if the guy who knew how to keep the wheat field alive died without passing on his knowledge died, the rest of the village would starve. Nowadays, you need to grow wheat, you run down to the library, hop on the internet, or call up your Ag. Sci best friend Jack.
When it comes down to it, I love the print reading experience, but it’s not why I read. Books are about information–getting it, sharing it, thinking about it. Although they’re a necessary tool, we’ve moved beyond books as a means to survival. And while we take books for pleasure for granted, it wasn’t an easy transition–fiction and the novel were looked down upon by the wealthy and the intelligentsia as recently as the 20th century.
The thing books–e-books, print books, any books–really do, though, is help us create experiences within our own minds. Watching a movie shows us someone else’s experience. Words help us create our own–my version of Katniss Everdeen will be different to my friend Amitha’s version, and her version will be different to Suzanne Collins’ version. They may all have the same colored hair, the same colored eyes, the same height, but they’ll still look different, sound different. Books–words–tie into our experiences, our memories, to paint a picture all our own. How the words are delivered doesn’t matter.
There’s a reason the Folio Society does old classics instead of new ones–kids and teens are interested in the story, not the cover. Sure, covers sell, but, just like we tell our kids, it’s what’s inside that counts. While the latest Vampire Academy book may not help teens learn how to catch rabbits the next time I’m lost in the woods or dropped into an arena to fight twenty-three of my peers to the death, it will give them things to think about. And while thinking about vampires may seem a waste of time, remember, the blood-suckers are people too–they think, they reason, they’re self-aware, and they face, at their core, many of the same issues as teens today. Whether they’re reading a print copy, an e-copy, or an app-book, teens will still get to the same place: a world in their heads. Would it be so terrible if the iPad let them share it?
Would you read an app-book? Do you ever chat while reading? Or are you a die-hard print only reader?
The demise of the newspaper has garnered a lot of media coverage these past few months. And all over the US, the heart of the world’s current economic crisis, companies are tightening their belts. Many newspapers, once thought to be essential media, are thought to be on the verge of collapse, as internet advertising models have been unsuccessful, and the failure of a paid web content model.
But is the idea of paid web content really so terrible?
Think for a minute. When’s the last time you paid for any sort of media content? Was it when you flicked on your cable to watch The Daily Show last night? Or perhaps it was this morning when you read Guess How Much I Love You to your little girl before leaving for work? As you’ve probably realized, paid content is not a new idea – every day we pay for some piece of media content, and the money we spend trickles down to those generating the content. Most people take this for granted; after all, when’s the last time you heard a woman complain about paying for a book at the local Barnes and Noble?
Enter the internet. When newspapers first started publishing online, many tried a paid web content model and found it very quickly floundered. And now, with the proliferation of blogs and would-be journalists online, it seems almost suicidal to re-introduce the idea…[more]Read More