Today, I have an excellent guest article by Carol Strickland, the author of The Eagle and the Swan, in which she talks about the new and and improved and countless reasons to read digital books! It’s fitting as yesterday in my review, which you can see HERE, I was raving out the enhanced digital version of her book. With all its links to resources, art, and photos it makes reading an experience.
Be sure to also sign-up at the Rafflecopter link to enter to win one of two copies of her digital book. Enjoy!
The printed book celebrates its 560th birthday in 2014, while its newest offspring the eBook has been popular less than a decade. Yet with titles proliferating at an enormous rate and more readers using the electronic format, one wonders what its potential might be.
In an article in the December 1, 2013 New York Times, David Streitfeld denigrated enhanced eBooks, quoting Peter Meyers saying, “We pursued distractions and called them enhancements.” Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute! As Sportin’ Life sings in Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
I’ve published non-fiction books on art, architecture, and literature as conventional print books and my historical novel (The Eagle and the Swan) as an eBook. From an author’s perspective, dead-tree books are just that: dead, immobile, static. Enhanced eBooks have all the growth potential of a living tree.
Let’s re-imagine the eBook with wide branches and deep roots. The branches provide perches for bird-like ideas to nest on and use as launching pads. The roots offer depth and a stable foundation. And the trees’ buds open into beautiful blossoms, not to mention forming seeds that can grow into new offshoots. Basically, an eBook can jumpstart a reader’s growth.
With links to embedded information, a well-designed, enhanced eBook can increase the reader’s knowledge with clickable hotspots for unfamiliar terms or names. These activate the reader’s brain by turning reading from passive consumption into lively engagement. No longer must you leave the experience of the book to learn more historical background. It’s layered right into the book.
The eBook is not just reader-friendly but user-driven, following a trend towards participatory art. It’s not a lonely meBook; it’s a collaborative weBook. Instead of imagining the setting, you can see it illustrated.
For non-fiction books, access to enhancements seems like a no-brainer. Even for fiction (especially historical fiction, a sort of hybrid form) they’re a value-added bonus. A fictional eBook can merge an invented story with fact. If the word weren’t already taken, we could call it “faction.”
Reading doesn’t have to be escapism. It can also be discovery and learning.
Of course, this subterranean richness offered by enhanced eBooks shouldn’t distract from immersion in the story. To be effective, enhancements should probably be accessed only after reading a story and becoming absorbed with the characters: their emotions, thoughts, issues and obstacles they face, and the plot.
Think of the enhanced eBook as a collage or assemblage rather than a one-dimensional painting. It should be multi-layered with a dense texture but offer the thrill of old-fashioned story-telling mixed with current technology.
Enhancements function both inside the story as an additional narrative voice (through design of the page with background colors and images, borders or frames) and outside as objective commentary and a source of more information.
The enhanced eBook is a post-modern art form in the sense that it’s a pastiche of old and new, traditional and experimental. In its ideal form, it establishes a sub-narrative plane. The choice isn’t bipolar: print or eBook. Both have their utility and craft and art. But why wouldn’t you want to make a book as rich and colorful an experience as possible?
In the enhanced version of my novel set in 6th-century Constantinople (a period obscure to modern readers), my “born digital” publisher Erudition Digital offers readers a cornucopia of add-ons: maps, timelines, glossary, character profiles (with images), and links to succinct summaries of historical characters, places, and events.
For example, one main character in my novel is Emperor Justinian, a late Roman Empire autocrat who contends with the Ostrogothic king Theodoric. “Who were the Ostrogoths?” a reader may wonder. A discourse within the narrative would slow down the plot. But if a reader is motivated to know more, she can click and bring up a map of the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy and find out who Theodoric was, written in a magazine-sidebar style that tells how he dispatched his rival to the throne with a single blow of his sword, slicing him in half and saying, “The wretch cannot have had a bone in his body!”
Print books are limited by the cost of production and distribution. For eBooks, it’s no big deal to add full-color, high-resolution images and links to more info.
Which is not to say that eBooks are now exploiting their potential. Standard eBooks are much less than they can be. Plain old black type on a pale background is so Gutenberg-era. Adding color, images, and design elements to each page of fiction can provide subtext and atmosphere to heighten emotional involvement. As we all know, words are just the beginning of the experience of reading. They’re the diving board, but right now, most eBooks aren’t taking the plunge into uncharted waters.
Enhancements exist to augment and expand. This deeper view foreshadows what an eBook can be. Why settle for less when you can have more?
Readers can see an enhanced version of the first part of my novel for free on the book’s website: http://www.theeagleandtheswan.com. If there’s enough demand from the Readers Club, we’ll roll out enhancements for subsequent installments.
Enter to win 1 of 2 copies of the digital edition of The Eagle and the Swan! Click on the link below to go to the Rafflecopter where you can receives entries. It runs until midnight of April 23, 2014.
The Eagle and the Swan, Synopsis~
For 1,500 years she has been cruelly maligned by history. Labelled as corrupt, immoral and sexually depraved by the sixth-century historian Procopius in his notorious Secret History, the Byzantine Empress Theodora was condemned to be judged a degenerate harlot by posterity. Until now. Due to a conviction that its contents would only be understood by generations of the distant future, a manuscript that has remained unopened for a millennium and a half is about to set the record straight. It will unravel the deepest secrets of a captivating and charismatic courtesan, her unlikely romance with an Emperor, and her rise to power and influence that would outshine even Cleopatra. This historical novel traces the love affairs, travails, machinations, scandals and triumphs of a cast of real characters who inhabit an Empire at its glorious and fragile peak. It’s the tale of a dazzling civilization in its Golden Age; one which, despite plague, earthquakes and marauding Huns, would lay the foundation for modern Europe as we know it.
Praise for The Eagle and the Swan
“It’s a book rife with detail and passion. If you like historical fiction this book hits on all cylinders. The level of detail in terms of prose and historical relevance is engaging. And THEN the plot is what’s moving. The love and lust combined with a compelling story, taking on universal themes from a cross section of history, makes for a gripping work.”
“Carol Strickland has written a masterful epic. It is beautifully crafted and impossible to put down.”
“Beautiful storytelling. Fascinating and well-developed characters. What an interesting time in history! This book was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. The Eagle and the Swan is a must-read!”
Buy the eBook
About the Author
Carol Strickland is an art and architecture critic, prize-winning screenwriter, and journalist who’s contributed to The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Art in America magazine.
A Ph.D. in literature and former writing professor, she’s author of The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in the History of Art from Prehistoric to Post-Modern (which has sold more than 400,000 copies in multiple editions and translations), The Annotated Arch: A Crash Course in the History of Architecture, The Illustrated Timeline of Art History, The Illustrated Timeline of Western Literature, and monographs on individual artists.
While writing on masterpieces of Byzantine art (glorious mosaics in Ravenna, Italy featuring Theodora and Justinian and the monumental Hagia Sophia basilica in Istanbul built by Justinian), Strickland became fascinated by the woman who began life as a swan dancer and her husband, an ex-swineherd.
Knowing how maligned they were by the official historian of their era Procopius, who wrote a slanderous “Secret History” vilifying them, Strickland decided to let the audacious Theodora tell her story. She emerges not just as the bear-keeper’s daughter and a former prostitute who ensnared the man who became emperor, but as a courageous crusader against the abuse of women, children, and free-thinkers.
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