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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

How Can We Use Our Print Skills in a Digital World?


We held a break-fast Monday — traditionally Jewish people fast on Yom Kippur, then, after the day of services, break the fast at a shared meal. And that finally prompted us to buy an Ipod so we could have the music for the gathering. I took Sasha to the electronics store and he went off to try out the latest version of Guitar Hero while I shopped. You could feel the slightest bit of economic recovery in the store — not as empty as it was a month ago, a few more people buying this and that. And Sasha’s passion in playing was unmistakable. Then I got home and began copying — and thus recalling — the CDs I’d forgotten we have. This digital day gave me a profound send of opportunity and change. I think there is a fundamental difference between how have learned to narrate on the page and what the digital world both makes possible and demands — and we must learn how to bring our talents together with these new opportunities.
    Print works in space — you turn a page, the page turn causes a break, suspense, then — in picture books — a new scene; in print, a resolution after the pause; books have weight, so you know how long it is until the story (in fiction) or the life (biography) or the event (history) will resolve — on the last page. The new technologies work in time — you cannot see the end of the story, because the object you have contains many stories and unfolds in screens not page turns. You cannot see the last page, so you never know if you are close to the end. 
   Today’s paper brings two stories that fit directly with this post: Disney’s new form of children’s book digital storytelling: and Tina Brown’s new speeded-up-adult-nonfiction publishing strategy: Disney has jumped full force into the world of writing in time, not space. I don’t object at all, but I am certain that we — authors, editors, designers — need to learn how to write in this new form, just as publishers would do well to figure out how to marry our skills to their new medium. I like Tina Brown’s idea — but that is only a half step. We need an institute — a Sundance for New Digital Books — where we think, experiment, try things out, and learn how to speak this evolving narrative language.


  1. Linda Zajac says:

    Ain’t that the truth – ““The only thing I worry about is that everybody’s writing and nobody’s reading.” I like the idea of getting timely topics out there, but I think the quality of adult nonfiction is going to suffer. If the quality is lacking that isn’t going to do much for the genre.