Circumstance as well as preference dictated that I read the 2012 Newbery Medal– and Scott O’Dell Award–winning Dead End in Norvelt in four flavors: advance reading copy, finished book, iBook, and as an audio download from Audible.com. I read the ARC and bound book in editing the Horn Book Magazine review; when I needed to read it again for the Scott O’Dell Award over one weekend, I found I didn’t have a copy at home and thus downloaded the e-book; the audiobook was just for fun, since Jack narrated it himself and I’d listen to him read a grocery list, his delivery is that funny. Did the form make a difference? Of course it did, and that’s a fact that teachers, librarians, and readers all need to wrap their heads around in the heat of the digital revolution. It’s way more than e-books.
As the articles in this special issue on “Books Remixed” demonstrate, books, reading, and readers are always changing, both definitionally and individually, as an original text is transformed across media and its readers become viewers, listeners, players, and co-authors in the experience of story. Does Dead End in Norvelt remain the same book? Gantos’s words don’t change, but my reading does. At the Horn Book we are free and easy with ARCs, bending, marking, (sometimes) throwing them. A finished book becomes part of our library, and we treat them better: we’ve liked it enough to keep it. An e-book, at least for me, is always competing with the dozens of other books on my iPad as well as the ready temptations of the web and of electronic Scrabble. It’s like you have the whole world in your hands, and while God might have had no trouble staying on task, I do. Beyond that, we dismiss generations of work by type designers if we think those do-it-yourself typeface choices (basically, bigger and smaller) and standard screen sizes don’t affect our reading. I direct readers to Jon Scieszka and Molly Leach’s article “Design Matters” (HBM March/April 1998; www.hbook.com/1998/03/creating-books/design-matters) in which they showed us that
And beyond design and device—delivery. If you asked people at the Midwinter conference of ALA in Dallas this January what they thought might win the Newbery Medal that weekend, you got a variety of opinions. But if you even so much as mentioned e-books, you heard a concerted earful about OverDrive and Amazon and the Big Six publishers, and the difficulty—nay, impossibility—of getting these players to deliver digital books to school and public libraries in a just and efficient manner. Fair enough and true enough, but not nearly far enough. Local libraries will need to redefine themselves as location ceases to matter. Publishers (and reviewers!) will need to stretch their competencies or become satisfied with a smaller piece of pie. Reading isn’t going anywhere, but the current revolution in how people read is only a harbinger of the change in what people will be reading as the digital realm evolves its own idea of literature.
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FYI: Several of the articles in this issue will, as usual, also be available online, but this time they will feature enhancements such as embedded videos (it is a special issue on media, after all). Visit us at www.hbook.com.