E-books are good news for the literary world
Willfully blurring the line between reportage and essay, truth and construction, this beautiful book uses the saga of Yucca Mountain and the history of Las Vegas to frame a searing meditation on uncertainty and time. ()
Finally, a black
A lifelong Californian (and U.S. poet laureate from 2008 to 2010), Ryan creates poetry that is spare, laconic and in love with wordplay but with a fierceness underneath. This collection of new and selected work frames the brilliance of her career. ()
A close portrait of a family as it falls apart and reconnects over the span of many years, this novel picks up where The Corrections (2001) left off in excavating the elusive and often brutal landscape of intimacy. ()
More than a decade in the making, Skloots first book is both biography (the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells are still used in medical research half a century after her death) and social history, an investigation of the intersection of medical research, racial politics and family life. ()
A blistering social satire -- smartly observed and delightfully understated -- set in a North African country where the revolutionaries are as deluded as the leaders they seek to undermine. ()
Part memoir of the academic life, part engaging inquiry into the pleasures of Russian literature, Batuman’s debut is a bravura performance, a collection of essays about books and reading unlike any I’ve encountered before. ()
What’s not to like? Our finest living short-story writer gathers all her work into a single volume that showcases her quiet interior investigations of people at the edge -- of politics or identity or even the simple ability to cope. ()
Amazingly, Doggett has found a story about the Beatles that hasn’t been told: the saga of their post-breakup years. As much about money as it is about music, his book is a fascinating look at how the Fab Four’s lives kept intersecting, even after the band they created was long gone. ()
Take heart, readers. A Pew Internet & American Life Project report released this month found that just "[e]ight percent of the American adults who use the Internet are Twitter users.” I can’t be the only one to find this heartening in a culture awash in instant information, in the slings and arrows of the 140- character tweet. For a long time, I’ve regarded Twitter as the ultimate expression of our shared distraction, a virtual game of telephone in which the chatter is by its nature reductive, stripped of complexity, nuance, all those subtle shades of gray.
And yet, what may be most interesting about the Pew study is its timing, since this is the year e-readers took off. What does it say about us that, on the one hand, we don’t seem so enthralled by the hit-and-run of Twitter while on the other, we can’t get enough of electronic books? Only this: that technology is not a barrier to depth, to engagement, to the cultural discussion, and that perhaps we want the same thing from our reading as we always have, regardless of the form it takes.
E-books, after all, are the story in publishing this year, with more than seven million iPads sold in the eight months since the device went on sale in April, joining millions of Kindles, Sony Readers, Kobos and Nooks. Just a week or so ago, Google launched Google Editions, an e-book retailer designed to compete with the iBook and Kindle stores.
The great debate of the last several years — whether readers would read book-length material onscreen — appears to have been settled with a resounding “yes.” What does this mean for reading? It’s too early to tell, but I see a lot of cause for optimism as the e-book experience becomes more sophisticated and more and more of us explore the world of digital literature.
I should admit here that I am not yet much of an e-book reader; I have a Kindle but I rarely use it, and I don’t have an iPad, although I covet one. That doesn’t matter, however, for a few reasons — the first of which is that print books aren’t going anywhere. E-books may represent an exploding corner of the market, but it’s a small exploding corner. Beyond the cultural question (page or screen?), it will be a long time before they displace the economies of print. Even more important, none of these media are in competition. They are complementary. The issue is not what we read on, just as the issue is not what we read. The issue is that we read, that we continue to interact with long-form writing; by altering the conditions of the conversation, e-books and e-readers have already served an essential purpose.
Of course, as the e-book continues to develop, technology will increasingly become a literary métier. Already, we have authors experimenting with software as a format, writing for the screen. Ander Monson seeded his March essay collection “Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir” with symbols that direct readers to a website featuring regularly updated augmentations as a strategy to comment on the fluidity of our relationship with text. Jennifer Egan used PowerPoint to frame a chapter of her novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” published in June, and if it’s a bit static on the page (much less so on Egan’s website), it also suggests where things are likely heading as more authors blend digital and print. For some, this is scary, a blurring of the lines of bookness, a challenge to the boundaries of the form. But I prefer to see it as an enhancement, a way for literature, for reading and writing, to expand itself through direct engagement with the world.
Here, perhaps, we have the true lesson of the Pew findings — that even in the digital world, we want more connection rather than less. This, I think, is what e-books have to offer: the promise of immersion, enhanced or otherwise, just as their analog counterparts have always done.
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