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Monday, October 1, 2012
The future of reading is in the Oval Office

By Henry Abbott

People are worried about the future of books. People are worried about the future of e-books. They are worried about a lot.

(Trust me, this will be about basketball.)

Julie Bosman writes about all this for The New York Times:
Various ventures are trying to satisfy a common complaint about e-books: that they are simply black-and-white digital reproductions of long-form print books, flat and unoriginal in their design and concept. One variation, what publishers call enhanced e-books, with audio and video elements woven throughout the text, has largely fallen flat with readers.

But serialized fiction, where episodes are delivered to readers in scheduled installments much like episodes in a television series, has been the subject of an unusual amount of experimentation in publishing in recent months. In September, Amazon announced Kindle Serials, stories sold for $1.99 and published in short episodes that download onto the Kindle as the episodes are released. Three of the first eight serials were produced by Plympton, a new literary studio.

In August, Byliner, a digital publisher, announced that it would begin a new digital imprint devoted to serialized fiction, with work by Margaret Atwood and Joe McGinniss at its start.

One of the most talked-about new experiments is taking serialized fiction a step further. Set to make its debut on Monday, it is a novel called “The Silent History” that is available on the Apple iPhone and its iPad.

Here's the thing, though. "The Silent History" is a kind of a big deal. The project started with a 160,000-word book, but you don't just get to read all of those words. You get to read some of them, but for the rest, you have to move to certain physical places.

And, as it happens, there's an NBA connection ... if, and only if, you happen to be reading in the right place. And in this case, that place can be hard to get to. Eli Horowitz, who has been at McSweeney's for a long time, is a chief moving force behind "The Silent History," and explains the project's bold NBA connection by e-mail:
The story is told in two ways -- there's a central storyline that's available to everyone everywhere, and then there are hundreds of site-specific field reports that allow extra-curious readers to explore the story more deeply, almost like a walking tour of the fictional world mapped onto the alleys and artifacts of the physical world.

One of those reports is set in the Oval Office, and is told from the perspective of a Wizards benchwarmer meeting President Obama after the Wizards' improbable run to the 2015 NBA championship. (That's the great thing about fiction, right? It teaches us to dream!)

Thing is, the field reports can be accessed only when you're actually standing in the location where they occur -- so to read that particular report, you have to actually be in the Oval Office.

But still, it's nice to know it's out there, right? If I can write it, maybe it can happen!