Friday, February 18

Posted by Laurel Garver on Friday, February 18, 2011 20 comments
The blogosphere has been buzzing about the e-book phenomenon for some time. One question that publishers are thinking about--but writers may not be--is how might we harness technology to make books something MORE?

At a conference I attended last fall, a panelist discussed the "enhanced e-book" model publishers hope will make children's books "value-added." By this, they mean embedding added features--glossary links to difficult vocabulary, pop-ups that provide educational information on the history or science of a story, illustrations that can be explored in three dimensions.

The possibilities of marrying story worlds with technology are frankly mind-boggling. An essay I recently edited at work led me to discover how even poets are exploring techie enhancements. Think of it as "concrete poetry gets its groove on."

The piece I read looked at work by poet Oni Buchanan. Some of her poetry is created using Flash animation so that the poem morphs and evolves, the letters exploding and reforming into new phrases and forms. It's one of the most astonishingly cool things I have seen in some time.

Take a look at her poem series "The Mandrake Vehicles," which Buchanan calls "installations"--a term performance artists use. Prepared to be amazed. It's freaking brilliant.

What enhancements would you love to see in e-books of the future?


  1. This is a very interesting concept: poetry working together with technology, rather than being against it. I think both forms will be appreciated in the future...(the traditional and technological.) Something to think about! :-) It's wonderful to see the art world changing and evolving.

  2. I'd be happy with anything - except I don't animation or anything similar to tv or video games. Most kids wouldn't read and would just play with the enhancers. But I love the idea of vocabulary and historical tidbits or even comments from the author. That would be cool.

  3. I love that things are moving and changing but it is overwhelming at the same time....some days I want to embrace all the new technology and other days I want to curl up with a good old book and read in tv, no computer, no cell. those are my favorite days, I think.

  4. I agree with Tess; I like the progression forward but feel its overwhelming presence at times. So I guess the key is for us to find the balance we can work and live with. Good post.
    Have a great weekend,

  5. I like the idea of embedding more history information about whatever you're reading. That would be pretty cool!

    A little more information about the author and perhaps little tidbits on how she got her idea would be neat! Even non-writers find that stuff interesting.

    I'm still an ink and paper reader, but I'm all for kids and adults getting excited about books and reading. And if value-added eReaders does it, then more power to it!

  6. When I first heard of this concept last year, the possibilities made me drool! They still do. I routinely research topics after I read a good book. To be able to click on links directly in the book would be amazing. I'm excited about the future of books!

  7. Page numbers. I'd love to read an ebook with page numbers.

  8. I agree with Tess as well. However, I'd love to have movie trailer snippets to go along with the book. Not long ones, just maybe two minutes, like a prologue where you could get the set-up of the book before you start reading.

    But I'm so old fashioned about my writing, and reading, I don't even think I'd own an e-reader until they're only $25.99.

  9. I would worry about the tech stuff taking you out of the story. It would kind of be like pop-up video for books (and that would just be overwhelming, unless you were re-reading, in which case, it would probably be pretty cool). I would love to read a tech-integrated Pride and Prejudice!

  10. Sigh...I'm only reluctantly and passively watching as e-books develop. It makes me nervous that somedays kids may have even less clue than today as to how to use a dictionary or even a glossary...
    But I do want to check out that poetry. Like drawing or painting, I always thought of poetry as something still and concrete...but then again I was blown away when I saw Kseniya Simonova's sand drawing... (

  11. I think e-book enhancements would be a true asset for YA and MG. As for adult fiction I think the theatre of the mind is still the best way to go. (Love your background). Have a great weekend!

  12. Soon there will probably be 3D Exciting but scary too. :O)

  13. I don't know if I'd be keen on a picture ebook with enhancements. Its almost like we always have to have something moving, like a tv show or movie to keep them interested. Why can't we just have traditional words? Soon our kids are not going to be satisfied with just a book and their imagination- it'll have to be enhanced, animated and flashy. But I do like the pop up history idea. That would make it more interesting for older kids who have to read things for school.

  14. I do love the concept of using several mediums at once to create and tell a story. I once saw a play with video, and saw it as a very creative way to bring the story even more live. I believe, (like how we still like black and white photos even though we have colour film), we will prefer the printed word in some stories, with no flashy content but there's room in our world for both.

  15. Jade: I think we tend to think of poetry as stuck in some other era, whereas in reality it continues to evolve as a form.

    Laura: I know what you mean. Enhancements should make the reading experience deeper rather than make it more like media that shorten the attention span.

    Tess: It is overwhelming how even books, which seemed like the last Luddite stronghold, are falling under the sway of technology.

  16. Karen: Overwhelming or exciting, technology will continue to exert influence in how communication happens in the future. It will be a challenge for many to move out of their comfort zones, but that movement seems unavoidable in this market.

    Laura: I'm excited as well by the possibilities of enhanced reading experiences, especially opportunities to learn as we enjoy a good story.

    Jill: Indeed, that aspect excites me, too. How cool to be expanding our minds as we enjoy stories!

  17. Angela: That's one of the big headaches of cross-platform applications. What exactly is a "page"? One Kindle screen? One unscrolled monitor shot? Details like this still need to be worked out, I think.

    Anne: I think we all like to dwell where we are comfortable. The trick is seeing the good possibilities in scary new things.

    Lisa: Yeah, I know what you mean about the yank-me-away problem. Kids have enough of a problem with that. But encountering unfamiliar vocabulary can bring reading to a screeching halt. So at least having the glossary feature would be a vast help.

    I love the idea of classics full of links, both to images of historical artifacts and even to commentary from scholars.

  18. Faith: My concern is what it does to kids' intellectual development when they don't have to put in much effort to get information, but expect it to fall in their laps. Patience and perseverance are the virtues that will get short shrift in this model of reading, for sure.

    Tana: I kind of like the idea that one never stops learning. The adult books I like best are ones that introduce worlds I'm unfamiliar with. I think we all could benefit from being encouraged to delve into learning as we read.

    Diane: I kind of like the idea of games at the end of books, which a kid could access as a reward for finishing the story. It would make the experience really memorable.

  19. Abby: I think it is an interesting ethical question--at what point are we doing kids a disservice by enhancing books? How do we best encourage intellectual curiosity?

    Lynn; I like the concept of using technology to facilitate going deeper, rather than making a reading experience more flashy.

    Amos: I hope you take the opportunity to look at Buchanan's work to see one of the ways that can happen. It's pretty cool.