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The Future of Books

Until very recently, writing was linear out of necessity — one page came after another. Some books, like House of Leaves (a favorite), try to side step this limitation by throwing content at you. The straight narration is accompanied by footnotes, and two different commentators have comments ranging from sentences to page’s long in the margins, and footnotes and marginalia often circularly reference on one another. This forces you to choose what you read when, creating a different experience each reading and for each reader. Still much of the amterial is encountered in a linear manner.

But the internet has been paving the way for a change. Like reading articles on wikipedia, hyperlinks allow you to create a new manner of reading though a story. A story cam be told out of sequence with the characters rambling thoughts being linked to other parts of the story (imagine Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury with hyperlinks connecting parts of each characters viewpoint in the book — imagine if Faulkner could have used random hyperlinks to further the effect of the mentally handicapped first narrator).

Some point not to soon from now, we will have ebook only releases, and when that happens, it will only make sense to take advantage of the greater richness linking and embedding can provide. When something reminds a character of a story, the full story can be linked, half remembered lyrics can cue the tune or even the full song. Ebooks will truly change the structure of story telling forever. Those that don’t augment words with the risher conent and context the medium provides will surely be left behind.

Think of the last time you spent an hour or more clicking through Wikipedia — the future of books may soon resemble that experience.