When Analog Trumps Digital (And a book is more than a book)

For all my writing and teaching and wondering about the ways in which the digital world is changing the way we write and compose, there are still many moments when the digital can’t hold a candle to the non-digital.

This week, I got a reminder of that. In the mail. Snailmail.

Brian Selznick’s new book, The Wonders, arrived in a box and wonder is right. I haven’t even read the book yet (it’s next on my pile, though) but already, I am entranced by it in ways that no Kindle or ebook format could ever do. It’s the tangible qualities of The Wonders that has me eager to dive in. My eyes pick up its presence every time I walk by the counter where I have it sitting.

It’s begging to be read.

Like his two other books that I loved — The Invention of Hugo Cabret and WonderstruckThe Marvels is clearly a work of art as much as a work of storytelling, with Selznick’s distinct drawing style moving one story along while the text moves a second story along, and I suspect they will converge together. But it is the physical book itself that has me fascinated right now.

From the cover itself, with its golden fonts, to the page bindings that are dipped into some golden gloss that reflects movement in the room, to the feel of the book (it’s heavy, as if indicating some story worth its weight in gold), and the way you can flip through the book and feel as if if you are submerging into the story. You physically hold The Marvels and there is no doubt that you are holding a book! You might need a literary sherpa to help carry it, but dang it, it’s a book you’ve got, not an app or a file.

A book.

And there is something wonderfully powerful about this realization that a physical book itself, one you hold in your hands — paper and words and ink — can still stir that kind of excitement in a reader.

Yes, the ability to embed media, and add links to other content, and bookmark with notes, and all of the other whizbang options of digital books is fascinating and interesting. But …. I still yearn for this kind of experience, too, and it feels like a dying ember of publishing — exciting readers with the design of a book. This publisher figured it out, and I (at least) am willing to pay a bit more to own a book that is art in and of itself. Now, I can’t wait to dive into the story and immerse myself into the entire experience.

(And part of me wonders, will Selznick and his publishers turn this story into a digital book? I don’t believe┬áhe did that with his other two (unless you count the movie version of Hugo, and the audio version where he worked to use soundscapes to tell the silent story of the images in his book), and yet, how much pressure there must be to do that, right? I’m not even saying that would be a bad thing, if done right. See The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore for how this can be done with style.)

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

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