Friday, June 22, 2012

Thoughts about e-Books after attending a Writer's Conference

I just returned from attending the 2012 Wesleyan Writer's Conference in Middletown, Conn.  It was a week jam packed with close reading of poetry, thematic explorations of fiction, exploration of dialog in non-fiction and of course speculation on the future of books, e-books and publishing.

A couple of ideas came to me during the week that I'd like to share.  Let me preface by saying that for me reading means reading books or PDFs on my Kindle or via a Kindle Reading app on my my iPad, MacBook Air or HP laptop.  Last year I read 42 books and only two of them were of the dead tree variety.

One of the great features of Kindle reading (and presumably also for Nook reading though I can't say from experience) is the ability to trivial get the dictionary definition of works in the text via a single click.  I like to pride myself on an extensive vocabulary but there are lots of words that I "mostly know what they mean but could not give you a coherent definition".  I make it a point to click on these words and get a real definition.  That's all well and good but we should be able to do better.

Many books with extensive sets of characters contain a Dramatis personae or list of characters at the beginning of the book.  This can be especially important when reading Science Fiction where some authors show how alien their characters are by giving them unpronounceable names.  Imagine being able to click on a name in your book and get the quick description of who that person is?

A further enhancement to this idea would be to generate what we know about the person at that point in the story.

Some people might view these not as enhancements but as crutches that remove the need to immerse oneself in the book.  I would respectively disagree and say they provide a way to become more immersed in the book, but it doesn't matter.  They are mostly just examples of simple things we can do to play with the book reading experience.

Sadly, while Amazon provides an API to create applications like games on the Kindle they do not (as far as I've been able to tell), provide a way to modify/extend the actual book reading experience.  I don't blame them as most "enhancements" would like be misguided but its still a shame that we can't currently play with the idea.