I’m Writing from NCTE, Where I Wander Through Halls Filled with Books
and so the question comes, what is the particular nature of a print book, as opposed to the same text and art on, say, a Kindle or any other soon-to-appear form of e-reader? I was prompted to think of this by looking at four books: there are three new Lincoln books that are extravaganzas of visual display: Martin Sandler’s Lincoln Through the Lens search.barnesandnoble.com/Lincoln-through-the-Lens/Martin-W-Sandler/e/9780802796660 is the most conventional: an oversize book on clear white paper that shows off the many period photos and prints; Candace Fleming’s A Scrapbook Look at the Lincolns, and Barry Denenberg’s Lincoln Shot (discussed in this joint review www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/books/review/Holleran-t.html push the visual field further, and further. I have only glanced at them — this is not a review — but, like the Times reviewer — the experiments with format (the Denenberg is extremely thin and tall; the Fleming filled to overflowing with text and art) made me think about the book-making behind any print book.
I am not saying every book needs wo be an odd shape or to use old type and hundreds of images to be exceptional. In fact I am not saying books need any illustration at all. Rather my point is that a book becomes valuable, exceptional, because of the layers, the depth, the craft we bring to it. I felt that, too, even just looking at Sid Fleischman’s biography of Mark Twain, browseinside.harpercollins.com/index.aspx
Of course all of these books may eventually appear on e-readers — which, by then, will be able to handle color and odd formats. But I am not sure that will be the best use of the medium. Movies are not filmed plays — movies needed to find their own vocabulary, their own syntax for dealing with space and time that was different from theater. I wonder if some of the unconscious appeal of Hugo Cabret is that it is about early film, that moment of transitions from machines and puppets to filmed motion. And we now are in early digital expression, and so we feel some echo to that time of weirdness, and experiment, that was the early age of cinema. Because I think that when e-readers get really good, we will develop new forms of expression that take advantage of their strengths, that are not books without paper, but rather digital expressions that flow and move, as film flows and moves.
In other words, I suspect e-readers are not another storage device for text, but rather the opportunity for new kinds of narrative and expression. Leaving books, regular old difficult expensive books, to be what they are.
What do you think?