This post is a digression. We’re a platform focused on helping you create quality ebooks that you can distribute everywhere, but! I have seen much discussion recently about when enhanced ebooks work. Having produced 800 + enhanced titles, I wanted to weigh in — mostly on a personal level — to relate my particular feelings that I can no longer keep bottled up.
When it comes to enhancements, book lovers like to say they work fine for non-fiction, but fiction’s off limits. Enhancements dumb down books, are destructive, spazzy, distracting. I think that’s the accepted argument. Dark secret — I don’t really get it.
Enhancements can work fine in literature. In some cases they may even improve a book, which is the kind of statement that could get me banhammered in digital and real world book salons alike.
It’s not conjecture though. Great books are being produced right now with enhancements. Such as … People Still Live In Cashtown Corners, by Tony Burgess. It’s a 201 page novel from ChiZine Publications, released in 2010. I read it on the Kindle App for iPad.
The book tells the story of gas station clerk Bob Clark’s apparently unprovoked killing spree in rural Cashtown Corners, culminating with Clark barricaded in the home of a family he’s murdered. Sounds grim? It is! But it’s also smart, tricky, brainy, entrancing. I was hooked by the first two paragraphs, which read like Robbe-Grillet doing a Thomas Bernhard impression. I’m a sucker for Robbe Grillet and Bernhand so mashing them up? Mr. Burgess, where may I subscribe to your newsletter?
I thought it was a plain text book—but it’s got a twist. Halfway through, I swiped from one page to the next and had a shock. SPOILER: Burgess has embedded an image purporting to depict a crime scene from Clark’s rampage. The photos show grainy, real-life scenes that push into reality in a way I didn’t expect. The next few pages then shift without explanation to pictures of a crude World Trade Center art project one of Clark’s victims was building in school.
The pictures expand the previously hermetic universe of the novel, forcing you to connect events real and imagined, staged and actual, drawing imaginary lines between crime scene photos we’ve seen on the Internet and TV, the perpetrators behind them, the victims in them. They make a strange book stranger but also stronger, like the suddenly illuminating digressions in a Chris Marker film.
It’s art. Good art. Not emotional art. But art that did something to my brain I didn’t expect. I enjoyed it. I had an experience. I remember the experience more strongly than I remember reading the Family Fang, which I liked, but which was about people trying to create the feeling Burgess actually inflicts on you in the eBook version of Cashtown.
And I’d claim that these photographs wouldn’t work in a print version. I’d be able to tell by the change in the paper consistency and the glimpse of a darker line from an illustrated page that some kind of picture was coming. The element of surprise would be gone. And it’s the surprise and the shock and the smooth transition from text to image to image to image that makes your brain speed up while simultaneously trying to slow down and work out connections. Which creates vertigo. And tension. And a strange powerful sense of unease and displacement.
That’s one example of a piece of excellently effective enhanced literature. There are more. There will be more. But for everyone who claims enhancements can’t work in literature, I say: Enhancements can work fine – you just aren’t reading enough books.
Tl;dr: You might not like enhanced ebooks but there’s an awesome arty one that works with some creepy pictures. Also, Stone Arabia, the narrator wishes it had a video in it, at one point! DANA SPIOTTA WRITE ME!