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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Late Post First Thoughts on Print Books and Ebooks

Sorry freinds — I was able to respond to comments from my Ipad but for some reason I was not able to use this form to post. I am experimenting with the Ipad — a fun toy, a very light networked computer — as a way to begin to explore and experience the ereader world, and thus to get a hands on sense of digital publishing. As I’ve said I want to create a think tank to plan how youth service libraries should think about and make use of print books and ebooks, and in order to do that I have to begin using the new tools. By coincidence, in my Rutgers class we are looking at Picture Books — which are  a pure product of print technology — so the contrast of print and digital is very clear in my mind. Here’s my first report:

I downloaded the Nook since it is free, and then a novel to read while I was away (Marina and I had the great fortune of being in Paris at our wedding anniversary — for a reason. A marvelous gallery there was showing work my father did for the Yiddish Theater in the early 1920s — very Constructivist sets and costumes that have not been shown since the 20s — and I got to be there as a the family representative). I hated the experience. The text floats on the page. Sure I can flick-turn pages, but the letters, the words, the lines had no heft, were not part of there own discrete object — there were just free floating black marks. I know that ebooks are not apps — more about that in later posts. But so far to me ebooks are not books, that is a misnomer — they are etexts. Or, more precisely, etype.

By contrast — as you all know — the picture book form evolved because printing technology makes it easy to fold and refold a large sheet of paper on a press so that it ends up yielding 16 sheets, or 32 pages. (think of the simple folding math: 2;4;8;16). Thus a limitation, yes a pure limitation of math and machine, created a form. But then for sixty or more years artists have explored that form — making use of the page turn, of the fact that the front matters (half title page, title page, perhaps table of contents) form an overture to the story — which can be used in any way from pure white pages with black type to the same kinds of invention used by Hollywood in turning film credits into mini films and cartoons — then the suspense and surprise of the page turn followed by the spread — then even the end papers — to create one unifed experience. That unified experience, that marriage of art, text, design, and physical space is the precise opposite of etext — black words floating in white space.

So far I see etext as a step backwards. I am extremely excited about what apps will be able to do — when we can marry etext with sound, images, video, animation. That will be — is — a thrilling to form. But it ain’t books. It is precisely a new form. (I’ll show you how I’m exploring the new form next week).

More anon.