Apple and Literature: books will be shorter!

Alright, there are some things that just astound me. Daniel Akst’s apparent backing of less literacy carried on the back of eliterature is one of them. In an article talking about the future of publishing and how Apple’s Ipad could affect it he has the following quote:

Shorter is always better on screen, and so expect shorter books. Many nonfiction works are too long anyway — think of all those cinder-block-sized biographies — in part because right now there’s no mechanism for bringing to market anything between a magazine article (perhaps 5,000 words) and a short book (perhaps 70,000). Tablets will allow the length of works to be tailored more closely to the need.

More important, an Apple tablet will offer not just text but also sound, images and video — which will all be commonplace in books someday, in a balance we can’t yet foresee. This may undermine the primacy of text, but the text in most books today is far from sacred, and a little multimedia can do a world of good in most genres — in how-to books, for example. Think back to the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages; even when text was sacred, people liked a little multimedia on the side.

Now, it’s entirely fair to point out that Akst is pointedly mentioning nonfiction work but his statement that less text could be viewed as better on a screen is a solid point and could easily be something that bleeds into fiction. But while I disagree that shorter is necessarily better in regards to his “cinder-block-sized biographies” such a move could be a positive thing for what has become a bit of a lost art: the short story.

Anyone who has been in an MFA program for creative writing, or hangs around people in an MFA:Creative Writing program, has likely heard that short stories are not a path to publishing in book form. Collections don’t sell, novels do, despite the fact that many of our most beloved American authors excelled in the form of the short story.

The cliff’s edge that will need to be avoided, however, is where brevity falls into a lack of depth. Hemingway had an economy with words but his works still carried tremendous depth. Toni Morrison often sits in the 250-300 page range and she’s a nobel winner. Nabokov excelled in the form.

This also isn’t to say that a work should have to be shortened to meet an imagined requirement of a form. While many biographies are long, that doesn’t mean their length is not necessary. Personally, I hope that when I die that it most certainly takes more than 500 pages to recount my life and whatever achievements I attain. And for any moderately influential (though not necessarily famous) person, brevity could become an insult to thoroughness. We aren’t talking about the life and times of Nicole Richie but the life and times of presidents, senators, inventors, etc. A recounting¬† of Nikola Tesla’s life should probably resemble a cinder block.

As for the multimedia aspect, it’s something I’ve pushed myself. but only now am I wondering what the multimedia might entail for the various romance genres.

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