What is a digital book?

It’s cheating to offer a definition that’s built on absences, but a digital book isn’t a novel. It is capable of many things. Of fluidity, of transmediality, of fore and backgrounded linkages between platforms. What it might be is all of those things, and it might be only one. It has to be something though.

  • It isn’t a game.

  • It is something that acknowledges the past (the novel, the conventional book, the reader and the text) while reaching for something fundamentally new. It strives and it tries and it entices and satisfies. It understands the potential of technology, just as Gutenberg did in the fifteen century, and it changes things.

  • It does not forget to tell a good story.

  • It is public, and it is private, whenever it decides. It knows that we read differently. It recognises the network, the playful spirit and the serious business of writing.
 It is short, and it is long. It is both of those things, just as the book is. It has boundaries, because Susan Sontag is right, and things have to end. It is confident, just as Austen showed us how to be, and it does not hide behind a facade of counterfactuality when that is a facade.

  • It does things that books cannot do. It controls the means of its own reading, dictates and delights in equal measure.

  • It scares and shocks. It shows us the inside of a character’s head, just as a novel does, but it does so in ways that a novel cannot.

  • It is deliberate and it is not a fallback, or an addition to another form.

  • It has purpose.

How we build that is the next step. What we ought to consider are what of those things we want, and what we’re happy to leave behind. We’re not going to need all of them all at the same time. Making decisions about what’s in and what’s out is a good start.

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