Earlier this week, I had an amazing insight. The physical act of opening the
cover of a book is very much like that of opening a door. I owe this insight to an interesting comment made by Chad Merkley in response to last week’s Wandering:“Zink Makes Me Think.”
I suggest you check out Chad’s comment(and while you’re at it, take in all the rest; they were especially thoughtful). In brief, Chad was talking about how he went and viewed some of Melissa Zink’s work on-line. Her later work in particular made him consider the abstract nature of the written character. He then speculated on how we might react differently to seeing the same characters on a computer screen or on the pages of a book and how the physical possession of a book makes us feel we own something that puts us in direction contact with the characters and their world.
Chad’s comment made me think about how I was reacting at that very moment to the book I’d just picked up from the library. Since this particular book is one I am reading mostly because I want to form my own opinions, not just parrot what “everybody” is saying, I’m viewing reading this book with some trepidation. I keep peeking inside, reading a few words, then closing the book – rather in the same fashion that, as a child, I might have opened a door and checked out new and potentially dangerous terrain.
But, you know what they say… You can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s true. You need to open the door and go inside the world beyond. There’s a similarity to the two physical acts. Humans are physical entities. I’ve read that similar motions can trigger the similar responses.
Last year, I read how a popular juice brand changed its packaging to a more efficient and ergonomically designed model. Within a few months, they changed back. People didn’t “feel” they were getting the same experience, even though the contents were the same. Sales dropped off in favor of juices in more traditional containers. I’m sure you folks can supply other examples of when a change of shape or action changed the experience.
I bet that the “open the book” experience is why some of the most popular e-book covers mimic the shape of a book, complete with a cover to open. The model Jim has is even embossed leather. You don’t get much more “book-like” than leather binding. All of this has given me serious insight to why I reacted so differently to trying e-book readers in stores and viewing material on Jim’s once he bought it. That leather cover makes the e-reader look and feel more like a “real” book.
Think I’m pushing the idea that form can color the experience too hard? Here’s an interesting anecdote in support. A few years ago, a friend who lives in a foreign country begged me for the electronic file of a forthcoming novel. He later wrote back that he was not as happy with the story as he had hoped he would be. Later, when the book came out, he bought a physical copy. He wrote me as soon as he finished reading it, making me promise that I would never again let him talk me into sending him a book as an electronic file. The novel’s contents had been just fine. He’d loved it (and went on the read the rest of the series). It had been the experience of reading the text off a standard computer screen that had put him off.
I’ve heard similar stories from other authors, other readers. A story is changed by the format in which you read it. To this day, when Jim reads one of my books in manuscript, he requests a very specific format, one that lets him feel more as if he is reading a “real” book.
So maybe there’s nothing like “opening the door” and walking into a book. Maybe that’s why despite the efficiency and increased sophistication of e-book readers, tablet computers, and all the rest, still, there will be nothing quite like holding that physical tome in your hand and feeling connected to the people and places within.
What do you think? I love being stimulated into new ways of thinking about familiar things.