Thursday, October 8, 2009
The new charge by the panicked book publishing industry to combine video with text and create a hybrid book, cutely named a “Vook”, reminds me of that great line from Superman comics “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman.” Or is it?
Such an innovation was, of course, inevitable considering the astounding success of electronic books and its various delivery devices, led by Kindle and the SONY Reader now penetrating the market. It is certainly worth the experiment, especially for instructional books where movement might be helpful to explain the text.
Indeed, I can understand the marketing concept. Let’s attract book straying younger readers who are habitués of the short video format of YouTube and texting and try to win them back to reading longer works, meaning real books that have been the staple of the industry since Mr. Gutenberg came up with movable type. By real books, I mean traditional “content”, whether distributed via electronic text or through the printed page.
The concept, as it evolves, might be a way to partially fill the hole developing in the publishing business during this transitional phase between the decline of the paper book and the rise of the electronic book.
But for the dedicated reader who glories in delving into the world of fiction, and is the core consumer of works of the literary imagination and responsible for the bulk of adult fiction sales, I doubt if the Vook will penetrate this group. I base this assumption strictly on my own experience as both a reader and a writer of such works.
This does not mean that there might be a growing appetite for the Vook among those who yearn for the next new thing, and there is a good chance that it might become a profit center, although I wonder about its long term durability.
Speaking for what I believe is the majority of dedicated readers, I do not want my reading interrupted by an intrusion on my imagination as I immerse myself in the author’s story by someone else’s idea of how the characters appearance, background and reaction to whatever turn of events the author may want us to follow and understand.
The author’s purpose in creating his or her story is to bring us behind the scenes of a character’s life, his or her thoughts, emotions and an understanding of why he or she is acting in a way that motivates the action. It is exactly this insight that motivates the dedicated reader and gives literature its life force.
When reading a work of fiction, I want to imagine myself what the character looks like to me, what the environment in which these characters operate appears to my mind’s eye, and what and why the character portrayed is thinking while he or she acts.
I don’t want a middle man, via a video clip, actors and contrived sets, to tell me how to see the author’s story. In my opinion, such an intrusion is a diminishment of the author’s intention and waters down the reading experience. It suggests putting a steak in a blender and drinking it instead of getting the real thing, sizzling in bulk on the plate.
Having had three of my books made into films, I offer some modest authority on the process. Filmed content has its place. It can keep you interested for a couple of hours, even enthralled, but no matter how you slice it, it is not the real thing, meaning a true rendition of the author’s intent. Frankly, as a dedicated reader, I prefer the figurative movie in my mind, based on the way my imagination “sees” the author’s work.
This may be a convoluted way of expressing my point of view. As an author of works of the imagination I am obviously biased and conflicted, perhaps even somewhat stiff necked in my opinions. Bottom line: The Vook might work well for others, but it won’t work for me.
I doubt it will make younger people, addicted to the short blip, become dedicated readers, although they certainly might buy the idea at the beginning, perhaps long after. Brought up on low attention spans, this demographic is always in danger of enthusing mightily then coasting quickly away looking for whatever else is coming down the pike.
After all, this group has certainly bought into the “graphic novel”, an idea I personally could never embrace since the product strikes me as a comic book in a reincarnated binding. Having grown up as a pre-teen on comic books I can’t quite embrace it as serious fiction despite its pretensions, nor does it absorb my interest. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but having once read bible stories in classic comics garb I can’t bring myself to take it seriously.
I know this will offend devotees of the genre, but I suspect that the dedicated reader might eschew such a contrivance, despite its obvious success. There is certainly a fertile market out there for this kind of “reading.” Indeed, its popularity, judging from the way it’s eating up book catalogue and shelf space, seems to be burgeoning.
As for the dire warnings I have been hearing for years about the declining reading public, especially among young people, I have always rejected such alarms. It may be that the offerings are not attractive enough to induce the younger people to step forward. Who knows?
As many of us know, the quality of a thing is not always to be judged by its popularity. For example, while I congratulate Dan Brown on his popular success, I wish I could be complimentary about its quality. In my opinion, the characters are cardboard cutouts, the narrative drive is B-movie exploitation, the clichés are beyond count and the mystery seems stilted and far fetched. On the other hand, the hype was beautifully executed and if money is the great measure of success, then good for Dan and his publisher.
Hell, I bought the book for my electronic reader and slogged through it determined to show my loyal support for a fellow author. Indeed, many of my publisher and writer friends believe that anything that brings people into the reader’s tent is a plus. I suppose the business bet is that the Vook will also increase traffic to the tent. It might.
As for its contribution to the wonders of books consumed by the dedicated reader, I doubt it will make the slightest dent.