Monday, 25 June 2012

A Case Against eReaders

I've written before about why I think I would like an eReader - and it's definitely still something on my list of things I want eventually one day.  But I know that I'll never be able to fully replace physical books.  If only because of two of my favourite authors who elevate books to a whole new level.

Chuck Palahniuk is my favourite author.  You might know him as the guy who wrote 'Fight Club'.  I really encourage you to read his other books - especially if you like stories that are a little outside the norm and play with narrative and chronology to draw you right in.  I'm really excited about his "newest" book.  I say "newest" because it's actually a re-release of a previous book.

So what makes "Invisible Monsters: Remix" so worthy of purchase when I already have the original sitting on my shelf?  Apparently, this is the version Chuck originally wanted to release, but it was a little out there for the time.  In the original version of Invisible Monsters, he uses the device of "jump to...".  It's meant to read like when you're reading a magazine and sometimes the story gets broken up throughout the issue so you can flip to the back to finish it, or you can keep reading straight through the magazine and come to it eventually.  In the original version, it's just a narrative device to jump around in the chronology, "Jump to no day special in the hospital, just outside the office of the hospital speech therapist."  "Jump ahead a few years to me being grown up and moving out."

But in the Remix version, it takes that device literally, asking the reader to jump from one chapter to another, creating an entirely new narrative structure.  Apparently it's even suggested that the reader should mark an X on each chapter as they read it to keep track, because there are "hidden" chapters that you don't get directed to which can really only be discovered through process of elimination.  Yes, it's "Choose Your Own Adventure" for adults.  Sidenote - did anyone ever kind of reverse engineer those Choose Your Own Adventure books?  I used to flip through and find an ending I liked then would read backwards to see how you would get there.

But my point is this - isn't this an amazing concept?  The idea of pulling a reader into a story like that, drawing them in until they lose themselves completely, not even knowing how much of the book is left.  And even though this book is available as an eBook, I just can't see how it can create the same effect.  I mean, Palahniuk is creating a maze of words - and I just don't see how you can appreciate it in the same way if there's a counter on your screen telling you you're 72% of the way through the book.

Similarly, there's the books of Mark Z. Danielewski.  If you want to talk about mazes in books, then you have to read "House of Leaves".  The book is almost impossible to describe, because it shifts and changes with the story, leaving gaps in phrases, using different colours and fonts to highlight and differentiate what's happening, and has pages that contain only one word as the characters in the story become utterly lost.  It's a work of art, and I really recommend you read it.  His second book, "Only Revolutions" is similarly absorbing.  When I read it, I needed to keep three separate bookmarks in it, because there are so many ways to read the book.  It can be read front to back, back to front, upside down, or from the inside out.  Again, it's almost impossible to explain without seeing it, but I got a lot of strange looks when I was reading that book out in public, turning the book around and around.

So yes, while there's many, many books that I will consume in a simple and straightforward manner, I love that there are at least a couple of authors out there who try to elevate the written word to something more - something that engrosses you in a way that few other things do.  And there will always be room on my bookshelves for works like that.

What are you reading lately?  Anything weird and wonderful?

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