October 25, 2011

The future of storytelling?


Over on FutureBook last Friday there was a long article about book apps and the future of storytelling. It’s a mission statement-cum-press release on behalf of debut author Nathan Farrugia and his agent, the bestselling author Xavier Waterkeyn. The project they’re working on is Farrugia’s The Chimera Vector, a ‘techno-thriller targeted to a young, media-savvy audience’, and the pair have plans for it to revolutionise the way we experience storytelling. To wit: using the book’s narrative as their basis, they will employ social media to encourage interactive reading; friends and networks will be able to share their progress through the book and comments on it, and, depending on how much engagement they want, will also be able to unlock extra content.

Can I be the only person who finds this troubling? ‘A novel, a graphic novel, an audiobook, even a film is a linear storyline,’ they say. Um. Really? I’m pretty sure a bunch of Oulipians just turned in their graves. Then there’s the idea that a novel or narrative (and they seem to treat the two things as one and the same) is infinitely malleable. Whack a bit more history behind this character or that, no need to worry about balance or integrity. I’m not suggesting that Cleanth Brooks would be beside himself about the desecration of The Chimera Vector, but I do find it surprising that there seems to be so little emphasis in this article on the value of literature in and of itself.

And this isn’t another of those maddeningly predictable rants about the romantic smell of paper and the joy of curling up with a leather-bound volume, etc etc ad nauseam. At Melville House we’re not scared of ebooks or the digital revolution — our Hybrid Books use the new capabilities of information systems to enhance the reading experience. But they do that from the standpoint that the books we publish are already great and important, and if people love them as much as we do they’ll want to know more about them. The Chimera Vector project, meanwhile, seems to assume that the good old-fashioned experience of reading a book is somehow in need of revision. Sorry, but I just don’t get it.


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.