Editorial: Remixing Reading

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

sciesz tone Editorial: Remixing Reading

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.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. Amen re the different kind of attention we give to a real book in hand vs. an electronic iteration with multiple distractions. Well said. Digitally, you can get a quicker sense of many books, if that’s your purpose, but getting lost in a book with ink on pages that have to be turned, is to have it become part of you—something that doesn’t happen when I read digitally.

  2. Eric Welch says:

    We hear the same plaintive bleating every time there is a technological change in the wind. I suspect when books began pouring off Gutenberg’s presses, the statists bemoaned the demise of illustrated manuscripts. The idea one is less likely to be distracted while reading a printed book in a houseful of children, on a bus, in a plane, or even a library, is wishful thinking. If the iPad offers too much temptation, may I suggest a Kindle which is pure book content and no web access. Concentration is a learned skill. I must admit to being more than a little surprised when my son bought my granddaughter a Kindle Fire for Christmas, but she’s using it to read all sorts of stuff. Terrific. It might be time for us old fogies to get out of the way or adapt. ’78s were better than 33 rpm’s, vinyl is better than digital, film is better than digital, telephones will ruin social interaction, and clay tablets beat everything; they are indestructible. Plus ca change….. Printed books will never disappear any more than horses have as long as there’s a coffee table that needs to hold something. The iPad opens a new world for illustrators and designers who are no longer limited by multiples of 8 page signatures (picture books have traditionally always been 32 pages.) Personally, I love being able to carry around my library in my shirt pocket, but then I’m a reader not a designer. Your last paragraph is exactly right. (MALS, UW-Madison, 1975)

  3. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Sure, there’s always bleating when technology changes but that’s not really my point here. Changes in printing technology–just like changes in recording tehcnology–have always meant changes in not just HOW people read (or listened) but in WHAT they read (or listened to). (And, also, changes in who was allowed or expected to read.) Our children’s-book publishing culture is still very much print-based: what are children’s book people going to do when this is no longer the case?

    • Eric Welch says:

      The presence of the iPad and Android tablets (I have each) argues for a revolution that is coming for children’s books. As I noted in my post, authors and illustrators are longer tied to printing technology (the signature limitation and four-color separation process for picture books.) In addition they’ll be able to use animation (I’m not a fan, but kids are) and other forms of digital technology which will provide them with much greater freedom and opportunities. How this will affect people like Art Geisert who create such extraordinary etchings for children’s books, I don’t know (he’s a friend but I haven’t talked to him for a while), but I suspect there will always be a market for fine art books, but they will also be more widely available in digital form where the color reproduction now is spectacular. It’s a democratization of culture. (Art’s etchings are still better in person than reproduced in a book, but how many people can do that.)

      I would strongly disagree that the change in recording technology has changed what people listen to unless you mean that the market has broadened through much wider availability.

      We’re also seeing a revolution in gatekeeping and distribution. Reviewers and librarians (and I’m a retired librarian who loves libraries) will seriously need to reexamine how and what they do. You are absolutely correct that place will become much less relevant, and for the past 15 years I have argued against new monolithic buildings that librarians continue to promote. Roxburgh is being hyperbolic when he says “libraries are screwed.” They may be, but only if librarians and the current library “old-guard” refuse to change their business model. They need to become less print-centric and more service oriented. I have a lot of respect for Roxburgh (fortunately I subscribe to the print version of Horn book so I could read his piece) and he is dead-on in his comments. He represents the best in publishing who has refused to lower his standards to the lowest common denominator and he’s also someone who really understand publishing and can see the hand-writing on the wall. My grandchildren have no attachment to print books (my children do) and they will be attracted to reading with solid content.

      I am a huge book consumer and spend a lot of money on books, but I am gradually discarding my print library and replacing them with ebooks. No need to go to the library, no due dates, instant availability, and I can read a 1000 page book (love history) with one hand across multiple platforms and devices including my cell phone (which are personal libraries.)

      If I were a used-book store, book distributor, or legacy publisher, I would be very worried. Librarians have traditionally shown themselves to be very flexible and technology savvy. I see a great future for them, but only if they don’t become emotionally attached to the “form rather than the content.”

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  1. […] let’s go ride our bikes! March 5, 2012 By Roger Sutton 1 Comment The New York Times  and I think alike about the temptations that beset iPad reading. And having acquired an iPhone this […]

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