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enhanced ebooks

By Miles Young

Mark Danielewski’s surreal bestseller House of Leaves garnered a lot of attention when it was published in 2000. The strange story of a family that discovers its house is bigger on the inside than on the outside, joined with an unconventional format like no other, causes readers to lose themselves in the dark world of “House of Leaves.”

The Next Step Into the House: eReaders Evolve

Applying the unconventional style of House of Leaves to the eReader format could revolutionize the way eBooks are experienced. Internet connectivity in eReaders permit virtually endless possibilities in the way we experience a book. House of Leaves could take advantage of this in helping us experience the baffling house. The stream of random content inherent to the story would work as an umbrella under which a merging of different media formats brings the book to life. These extra features would craft an even scarier and more disturbing story built off the printed foundation of the book.

Mixed Media Madness: Accelerated Reading

The array of content featured in House of Leaves is dizzying. Not all of it serves a purpose, and some of it is definitely nonsense, but the intention is to the highlight the vastness of information in the world and our access to it. These extraneous details, which take place in footnotes, are always present and oftentimes misleading.

With an eReader interface, the ability to black out these sections for easier reading is certainly possible. Further, readers could easily discern what content is directly related to the text thanks to Wi-Fi connectivity. This would accelerate reading and afford readers a feature a paper book simply can’t accommodate.

Monsters Under the Bed: Embedded Links Offer Countless Extras

The word “house” is always colored blue in the novel. It  calls attention to both the importance of the word and brings to mind the countless embedded hyperlinks seen on the Internet when reading. Applying this to the eReader would be all too simple. For example, important scenes could have links to graphic images that accompany the text. Fan art by users could be uploaded, allowing for galleries of certain scenes. User-created audiobook sections could be uploaded for people looking to rest their eyes but continue the story. Embedding links that connect to user-generated content would keep books alive by providing continuous content similar to DLC in video games.

Reading the Moving Picture Image: Video in the eReader

The explorations of the titular house are all captured on camera in the novel. Readers are treated to precise descriptions of what happens in these videos. Danielewski has denied offers to make the book into a film multiple times, tweeting “I keep resisting. One reason: directors don’t seem to read. One of Kubrick’s great quality.” Imagine being able to see re-creations of these videos and experience the horror of each expedition firsthand. It’s spooky stuff.

Text With Effect: Taking the Jarring Text Formatting to the Next Level

It’s common for the words in House of Leaves to drop off unexpectedly, change colors, change directions, and even create holes in pages that allow you to see through to another page further on. The tricks — and sometimes gimmicks — that Danielewski employs affect the reader in many ways, but none are as effective as the dangerous scenes in the house where the text is laid out to replicate the sense of confusion and hopelessness felt by those lost in the house.

When the words are spiraling out of control on a paper page, they’re arranged in a way to imply the effect. On an eReader, the words could actually spin out of control, or hysterically bounce from location to location to “escape capture.”

The Meta Story Perfected: Statistical/Categorical Progress Tracking for Reading

The story of House of Leaves is broken down into two main sections. The story of the house (The Navidson Record) and the story of Johnny Truant. In addition to this, there’s an underlying story about the man who first looked into the Navidson Record, Zampano, as well as additional content, poetry, and letters entitled “The Whalestoe Letters” that help further explain the story. This format easily causes confusion.

On an eReader, statistical tracking could allow us to designate when we’ve finished a section and then read analytics on how far we have come in each story. We could track our percentage of progress for each layer of the story and even “unlock” summaries and references for completing certain reading goals, almost like an “achievement” on video game consoles.

Exploring the House of Leaves with Friends: User-Created Reading Paths

The various layers of House of Leaves can be read in different orders to create different meanings or help clarify the central meaning of the text. User created “reading paths” could rearrange the book’s content based on preferred order without making the reader flip back and forth between sections spread across hundreds of pages. Purchasing one book could result in reading multiple books.

For the first time, fans who worship Vice CEO Shane Smith and alternative media would have the opportunity to read the ultimate example of atypical fiction together via user-generated pathways and live chat. Nobody will have to explore the dreamlike house alone ever again. The book’s command of horror is legendary. As one Vice.com article mentioned “It scared us so much we couldn’t open our closets for like a month.”

The act of reading hasn’t progressed as far as other forms of entertainment. Many of the suggested features of such a book are already implemented daily in Internet content (and especially in social networking). However, rarely have they been amalgamated together to help further entrench readers in fully developed fiction. Reading allows us to take on the persona of another person mentally while our body is tied to the physical world. This is especially appealing in an age of virtual reality.  The concept of an immersive eBook experience follows naturally with the merging of other media formats. The best stories are, after all, in books.

here on earth

House of Gimmicks?

It’s relatively easy to write off an enhanced eBook as a gimmick because the medium has yet to be fully explored and developed. Purist readers don’t necessarily want their books to provide them with extraneous media, preferring the simplicity of classic black text on white page. Conversely, occasional readers and new readers find that the extra content afforded by enhanced eBooks helps them enjoy the book more thoroughly by breaking up the monotony of repetitive page turning. In the case of a hypothetical enhanced House of Leaves eBook, the features discussed above could either be taken as gimmicks or as true enhancements. However, history tells us that extra content, although sometimes perceived as gimmicky, is oftentimes expected again and again once it has been delivered to the consumer enough times. It’s akin to the difference between purchasing a DVD in store and renting one via Redbox – the absence of special features such as galleries and commentaries leaves the disc feeling empty.

Enhanced eBooks have a chance to revolutionize literature for this generation’s readers. The availability and ease of developing an enhanced eBooks on not only eReaders, but as apps for tablets as well, makes the process of creating enhanced editions easier than ever. Books such as Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet are already using enhanced editions to bring readers closer together with Twitter hashtag-enabled reading groups. Stephen King has multiple enhanced eBooks all featuring an array of extra content for readers. Perhaps the most substantial reason for the defense of the enhanced eBook is its potential as an art form. Not everyone can bring together the necessary skills to make a great movie based off a book, but new tools and software are making it much easier to create enhanced eBooks. Enhanced eBooks are perched precariously on the crossroads of literature evolution, artistic medium, and shameless gimmickry, but if given the chance and attention it deserves, these enhanced editions could forever alter the way we read.

Miles Young is a freelance writer, designer and business columnist. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.

 
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