Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Better Novel

The physical format of a novel has been largely unchanged for centuries.  It shares most of that format with other printed matter of similar length:  a series of double-sided pages bound together in a durable cover.  Normally the author is named, and page numbers are provided as are a title page and chapter headings.

It wasn't always that way.  A reader used to have to cut the pages after purchase.  Chapter breaks were a crazy new invention at some point.  Works were copied by hand.  There was a time when it was considered gauche for an author to claim credit for his work.  There was authorship before paper.

And if you've spent any time reading older literature (certainly anything pre-1700) you've noticed differences in the style and pacing of those stories compared to what's produced today.  The novel is not a fixed-form; it continues to evolve.

We've become very comfortable with the format of a modern-day novel, both its physical presentation and the story itself.  But is there a better way?

We're seeing physical format changes in the e-readers, but they try to mimic paper books to a large degree.  We still have to page forward and back, even though there are no longer any pages.  The text sits still while we move our eyes, rather than the other way around.  We are still shown covers even though these books (which are not books at all) have none:  the protective purpose they used to serve is unnecessary.

The novel itself is changing, as it has changed throughout history.  The physical format the novel is presented in is changing too.  Are we making too many concessions to what readers are accustomed to?  Do we really lack the imagination required to make reading a better experience in more than just a token fashion?

Aside from instant purchase and downloading of books, and the ability to carry a large number of books with us on our e-readers  (note that none of these changes the reading experience itself) what have we done?  We've provided a way to change the font size.  That's about it that I can see (no pun intended).

Shouldn't we expect more?


  1. Hi John!
    Thought-provoking as usual. E-books have also affected the interaction of our senses in the reading experience. The smell of a new book. The feel of each page and the sound as we turn to the next.

    They've also changed the reader's ability to know exactly what page their on (at least with the Kindle - something that drives me nuts). And the ability to easily hold your spot while flipping ahead - if you're into that sort of thing.

    Sorry I haven't been by to visit in a while. This writing thing has really put a crimp in my social networking.

  2. Hi John!
    Wow! I notice you haven't been blogging much lately. I hope everything is okay. Anyway I came across an article and thought of Tbiz. It's about how the gaming industry is dealing with piracy. I see he isn't blogging much now either. Anyway, here's the link if he's interested:

  3. Hi Wendy,

    Everything's fine. I've just re-prioritized a bunch of things to free up time for more important work. I don't know if I'll pick up the blog again or not.

    Thanks for the pointer to the game pirates piece -- I sent it on to Tbiz and he enjoyed it (as did I).

  4. Glad to read you're okay! Take care!