Thinking Maybe Books and Technology Don’t Mix

April 26th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Something tells us we’re about to have a cranky day. We would apologize but we’re one sentence into what promised to be an interesting article (promise broken) and already we want to shoot off long diatribes to the journalist’s editor. This is how it starts, isn’t it?

E-books have yet to crack the publishing industry, but that hasn’t stopped literature from tackling computer technology as a storytelling device.

Well, technically, ebooks have cracked the publishing industry. Perhaps it would be better to suggest that they haven’t set the publishing industry on fire. Yet. We remain convinced that they will find their market (and, no, they aren’t going to replace “real” books — begging the question of whether it’s the paper or the words that make a book real).

Moving on. It turns out modern technology, like, oh, email, is finding its way into literature. William Gibson will be relieved. We get a timely save about two-thirds of the way into the article when the comparison between books written primarily in email format are compared to epistolary (or, and we did find this clever, e-pistolary) novels of times past. But before we got there, we had to deal with such nonsense as:

Then there was the issue of the language of e-mail: Most regular users will testify that e-mails ignore the conventions of regular letter writing, such as attention to correct spelling or punctuation and the reliance on emoticons (such as smiley faces) and other abbreviations (such as using BTW for “by the way”).

We didn’t live in the 18th century, due to reasons too boring to explain, but we suspect that there were a lot of really bad letters written. The spelling alone gives one shudders. Just as authors don’t replicate to the smallest “um” the vocal ticks of humans, they don’t precisely replicate the full experience of casual correspondence between friends. How many bolts of fabric must be described before the reader turns on the old-school version of television?

Let us suggest, already, that the email novel as a clever device is over. It has been done. This may be the earliest peak of technology in literature ever. You may use email in your work, but sparingly. Unless you can construct an entire story out of really short paragraphs full of smiley faces — and ensure us that the story will be completely different from what has gone before — we will suggest that what seems clever while you’re wearing your bathrobe is not so clever to publishers. Rocki St. Clair, the author of what we hope will be one of the last of this trend, says:

. . .that one of the biggest difficulties in writing a book in e-mail format was that everything is described in the past, not the present, and without “real-time” emotions the recollected scene had to be driven by a character’s personality. In particular, she felt that conveying the dramatic meeting of two romantically linked characters who live in different parts of the United States as an e-mail after the fact posed a problem.

Possibly past tense wasn’t the best approach, but that’s not our issue (well, it is, but we haven’t read the book, so passing judgment would be tacky). Our concern is that the novels of old used the length of the letters to their advantage. This can happen with lots of single-paragraph notes, but as we’ve banned all future attempts, we’ll never know.

Thank you in advance for supporting our cause.

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