At the Consumer Electronics Show a few weeks ago, at least 100 new tablets were revealed. A minority of these were e-readers, including a “Multimedia Novel” by Pandigital that comes preloaded with Barnes and Noble’s Nookbook store. Exciting name, but not such an exciting device other than its under-$300 price tag. With very few exceptions, the texts one can read on these devices are digital versions of existing books and magazines. I’d like to share with you one of these exceptions, the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch app What They Speak When They Speak to Me by Jason Lewis.
The digital page opens on a jumble of translucent white letters on a black background, slowly jostling one another. I shook my iPad, wondering if the letters might bunch together and form words. Nada. I dragged a finger across the screen, leaving a thin white line on which letters started to gather like pigeons on a telephone wire. So one reads by creating a surface for the phrases, line by line. It’s a simple and satisfying interaction, just a finger swipe. Reminds me of the act of turning a page, which of course also makes text “magically appear” on the next sheet of paper. But there is something more playful and exciting about watching the letters come together before your eyes, I caught myself starting to predict what the words were about to speak to me. I was also reminded of a beautiful talk by Virginia Woolf where she asks us to “Look once more at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Antony and Cleopatra; poems lovelier than the Ode to a Nightingale; novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order.”
But why is it important to make the reader work for the words, tease them out of a chaos of letters? Why not just write the darn poem out flat? Is it a desire to expand reading to embrace seeing and touching? Interestingly, this work is listed under the Entertainment category rather than Books on the iTunes App Store.
What they Speak is only 99 cents at the iTunes App Store. Support your local digital media writer! As tablets become more and more visible, I’m hopeful that bit by bit (har har) we’ll see more fine writing produced specifically for this new reading surface. Fellow readers, have any of you published for this platform yet? What do you think of the experience of reading on a tablet?