Book Summit: Chekov, E-Reading, and Transmedia

BookNet Canada was at the 10th Book Summit last Friday to witness a collective train of thought that included biodiversity, Chekov, video games, and fan fiction. How, you ask? Well, listen up:

“From Scrolls to Scrolling” 

The day was kicked off by Lev Grossman, the technology writer and book reviewer for Time Magazine, who posed a tough early morning question:

“What do we give up by reading an e-book?”

He spoke of the print book or ‘codex’ as an example of information technology that is undergoing its first major format change since the time of tablets and scrolls. Grossman’s argument was a daring one. He posited that e-books signal a change in what we read, how we read and what we expect from reading.

Even the most futuristic techie couldn’t ignore his over-arching point: e-books lend the reader a different kind ofand sometimes lesscontrol over their texts.

Grossman posited that while e-readers (and e-book files) are more compact and portable than the traditional print book, we sacrifice the literal searchability of paper books. While paper books encourage us to read non-linearly, with a personal connection to the text, and to continue “reading” long after we’ve put down a book; e-readers and e-books may signal a different type of readingsomething impermanent (more throwaway), less personal, more distracted, and ultimately less meditative.

He played the cautious devil’s advocate in rapidly changing times. He encouraged his audience to stop and ask “Why?” amongst the sea of perpetual “Why not?” that surrounds technological innovation. Grossman concluded that this format change will “give way to biodiversity”: both the p-book and e-book with strengths and weaknesses. They will coexist, albeit in a complex way.

“The Reading of Narrative” Panel

The panelists in this session shared their findings on the psychology behind the act of reading. Their study is based on the definition of stories as model worlds that allow the reader to be both themselves and someone else at once. They compared the experiences of reading Chekov in his original form and re-written in plain language to find out whether content or literary quality causes both social- and self-transformation.

The panel worked at pinpointing why literary quality (and not content) makes the mind more malleable, leading to transformations in personality and emotion. This quality is elusive, of course. To bring it all back to technology, the panel ended by posing the question: “How are new technologies changing they way we experience self-transformation through narrative?”

Check out archived research, studies and papers about “The Reading of Narrative” at

“Transmedia: What It Means”

I admit that I knew almost nothing about transmedia before this workshop. Keith Clayton, the Director of Publishing and Creative Content at Random House Worlds in the US, led this workshop. He generated an enlightening discussion about storytelling across multiple media platforms (and Star Wars).

Clayton told us how Random House Worlds has partnered with a video game company, and together they create transmedia products alongside the development of Random House titles. The attitude of transmedia grounds itself far away from anything that resembles spin-offs, tie-ins or merchandise. Clayton explained that Random House Worlds aims to use the specific strengths of each media platform (blogs, fan fiction, fan communities, video games, comics, movies, events) to tell a larger story. This means that readers can use different entry points into the story world. In successful transmedia, the story and characters remain at the centre of all endeavors, and the whole is more satisfying than the parts.

While Clayton hailed transmedia efforts, he also laid bare the challenges that it introduces with regard to rights, intellectual property, and the ever-present struggle to get the material in front of readers. Transmedia expands the book world from the personal to the interactive, from individual authorship to collective creativity.

Check out transmedia at RH.

Book Summit 2011 was about tackling the changes that digital content brings to publishing. How does it change what we want to read, how we read, and what we expect from a story?

In the closing panel, the discussion came down to this: Reading is individual; readers should be able to access the story world with choice in order to get what they want out of the experience. And, as panelist Keith Clayton concluded, “The walls are down between different mediums.” What will happen next?