I had a really interesting conversation a few days ago with someone I met on an airplane. I don’t normally speak to strangers in public, as an introvert it actually sort of terrifies me. But something compelled me (technically, my window seat and three teas) to start a conversation with him, and I’m so glad I did. Because it turned out he was extremely interested in the future of reading and the future of the book.
It got me thinking again about reading, and how reading is changing, and how I’d like it to change. And the other day I played a little game with myself and imagined reading the way I would want to experience it, regardless of technology and reality. And here’s the future of the book that I want.
I want a flexible, luminous paper-like material that is capable of displaying both e-ink and high resolution graphics. I want several sheets of that, say, 10-15, at around the size of an iPad mini, but bound together (and stitched in signatures, not perfect-bound, so that it would lay flat easily when opened, but could also be propped up with a stand like a tablet). I want it to have a touch interface, but also allow for the use of a stylus. That is my ideal book.
And when I’m reading it, I want to be able to turn the pages, and the digital text will flow ahead of me, even as I reached the end of the blank pages and started again. It would have to accommodate both free-flowing content (for example, your standard novel), and fixed-form content (poetry, textbooks, hybrid work, and experimental forms that require particular display parameters like indenting or images in specific relationship to the text). And, beyond text-based content both traditional, experimental, form fixed, and form flexible, I would want it to run apps. But not like Candy Crush. Apps like Vniverse, by Stephanie Strickland and Ian Hatcher.
Books as apps that require interactivity. That contain multiple modes of content delivery and generation. Apps like A Humument, which is an iteration of the decades-long art project and erasure poem Tom Phillips has undertaken. Apps like Abra, another by Ian Hatcher, with poets Amaranth Borsuk and Kate Durbin, that works both within and apart from a paper book. I really think that this is one of the most interesting new book forms out there, the app.
I want to be able to have some control over the display of form-flexible content (font, size, color, margin size), but none of those things for form-fixed content and apps. Still, with form-fixed and apps, I want to be able to have margins as an option. Because I also want to be able to write on the pages of this book.
I want to be able to annotate it with a pen, underline, circle, doodle, and highlight, and in different colors. I want also to be able to select text and add it to my notes – like remember back when you were reading textbooks for college classes and you took notes? Well, that’s how I read still. I want my notes to be attached from within the book file that I’m reading, but also accessible apart from it, in an outline format, with quotations selected from the text and linked back to it for easy attribution. But I also want to be able to write notes and summaries with either a stylus or a wireless bluetooth keyboard.
And I want it to link to my Goodreads bookshelf, because that’s how I keep track of everything that I’m reading. Ok, almost everything. With an ISBN number. But I want the process to be more fully automated. That it knows what page I’m on, that I can go from my notes to a review that is public and publishable on my blog, and on Goodreads, without having to switch from application to application.
Oh, and I want to be able to tweet excerpts as I’m reading. Not copy and paste into my Hootsuite app, and then fiddle with it to get it to 140 characters, plus the #amreading hashtag, and #poetry or #translation or whatever else is appropriate. I want to be able to select the text in the book and right-click or use some other shortcut gesture to indicate that I want to tweet that excerpt, and have it open a dialog where I can add the appropriate hashtags, @s or whatever else I may want. And then that can go to my Twitter, and/or my Facebook and/or my Google+ and/or my Tumblr. And also to my notes on the book, because if I think it’s good enough to share I probably want to remember it. A second kind of notes file on the book: quotations.
And, I want to be able to listen to music through this device as I’m reading. I want to have the option to listen to music the author recommends, or music that I select. And as an author I want the option to say “here, listen to this while you read my poetry.”
Finally, I want the ability to share my marginalia and annotations, either publicly or with just a few people. Lots of control over that – not just “all the marginalia” but at the level of each annotation with different sharing options.
That, my friends, is my future of the book. Wake me when we get there.