S is the title of an incredible book, and one that might be spelling the future of physical books.

I received two books for my birthday, the first one a beautiful collection of Sherlock Holmes’s stories, the second the book is from an AMAZING friend, and it’s called S. Has a book ever leant itself more perfectly to the A to Z challenge? S is a book co-created by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. But wait, it’s no ordinary book. DSC_0003It’s a story within a story. It’s a multi sensory experience. I haven’t read it yet (because as I posted yesterday, life is getting in the way of my reading, and I have a couple of books I have to get through before I can get my reward and snuggle down with this bad boy), but I’m very very VERY excited at the prospect.

The book itself is a beautiful, carefully distressed hardback that’s made to look, feel and SMELL (!!!) old. How they got Old Book smell in a new book, I do not know, but it’s the kind of voodoo magic the world needs more of. The book itself is called Ship of Theseus by a V.M. Straka. DSC_0002-1There’s a fake library sticker on the side: DSC_0005-1And even “return by” stamps at the back: DSC_0013But the most amazing details are within the book. Two readers have read the book before you and have left notes to each other in the margins. You get to read the story itself in tandem with the two readers’ adventure as they read the book between them. DSC_0007More than that, there are postcards, photos, plans written on a napkin and handwritten letters, all inserted within the pages: DSC_0008-1

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DSC_0011It’s an amazing concept. It’s brilliant – but then I wouldn’t expect anything less from geek extraordinaire J.J. Abrams. It also gives us what I think is a very interesting glimpse into the future of books.

With the advent of the e-reader a lot were quick to cry out that this spelt death to books as we know them, and to a certain extent, that’s true. The mass market paperback is dying a slow but inevitable death. E-books are cheaper to produce, making them cheaper to buy – which is a good thing as it makes book more widely available. They require less storage, can be transported easily, and can be accessed from anywhere in the world – in short, no matter whether you like them or not, e-books are by far the most practical option.

Very tellingly, Worldreader has been giving African children Kindles, not books. And it makes perfect sense. Getting physical books to these kids would be a logistical nightmare, and it would limit them to a comparatively small selection. A Kindle on the other hand, once set up, can access virtually any book in the world. It’s an incredible tool for education.

That said, I don’t think books as we know them will ever disappear. Rather they will evolve and adapt, as they have done for hundreds of years, to meet our needs. I firmly believe that physical books will become a luxury, premium product, one that offers the kind of quality and experience that an e-book can’t provide. Something that we splurge on to treat ourselves, something that we will hold on to, and pass on to our children.

S is the perfect example of this. It would be impossible to tell this story in e-book format. The story is physical, it’s a 3D, multi sensory experience that can only be told with the help of a physical book. We can touch the napkin on which the map has been drawn out. We can see the shine of the photo. We can see the commentators’ handwriting. Those are the visceral details that pull us into the story and into the readers’ lives.

Writers are starting to think outside the box when it comes to physical books. Hugh Howey has put grains of sand between the pages of his Sand book, and blood red ink splatters on the inside page of his I, Zombie book. Doesn’t that make the books instantly more fun? Granted if you’re a Librocubicularist, getting sand in your bed would be a massive bummer. If in doubt, always open your books in your living room first, kids. (if you haven’t heard of Hugh Howey by the way, I HIGHLY recommend the Wool books).

The e-reader mainly spells death to the mass produced paperback, and let’s be honest, how much are we going to miss them? If anything the e-reader is forcing publishers and writers alike to look for new ways to push the envelope of physical books, to make the reader’s experience even more all consuming.

The paperback killed illustrations in fiction books, the aim was to make books as quick and cheap to produce as possible. That, I think, is a crying shame, because who doesn’t love an illustration? The engravings in Alice and Wonderland are part of the story, to miss them out would be to cut out a huge part of the experience. Non Fiction has stuck by illustrations (I’m currently reading David Starkey’s biography of Elizabeth I and the first thing I did was peruse the images in the middle of the book), and I think (I hope) this is something fiction will slowly make its way back to as a way to create more beautiful physical books.

Change can be a very good thing, and books have been evolving to meet our needs ever since they were first invented so there’s no reason why they would stop now. And when something like S comes out, it makes me incredibly excited to see what writers/publishers/artists/creators will come up with next. Even more than that, it makes becoming an indie writer that much more appealing – because being independent means being able to try stuff like this out without needing permission from anyone. It means maybe being right at the forefront of the revolution that’s happening within publishing and writing. It means the ability to experiment with book formats and genres. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first I need to finish writing the damn thing.

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4 thoughts on “S is the title of an incredible book, and one that might be spelling the future of physical books.

  1. I just got this book too! So far it is AWESOME!! I love the concept. Just love it. That’s exactly what I thought when I saw it. I must have this because it is absolutely impossible to have an e-version. It is hands-on, physical, beautiful, 100% book. And the story (ies) is (are) amazing and very well written. So glad to know there are writers like yourself who are interested in keeping the physical book alive 🙂

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    • Oh great! So glad to hear it’s as awesome as I’m expecting it to be!! It’s a magical book, so glad someone invented it (it makes me want to invent something similar one day). I’ll have to come and compare notes with you once I’ve read it – always love a good geekout session about a good book 😉

      I definitely want to keep physical books alive, I LOVE books. I mean I read quite a bit on the Kindle because getting books out in Hong Kong is a headache and a half, but for anything special I always get a physical copy. It will be interesting to see how physical books evolve though, I really think they’re going to get better and better as a result of the e-book invention, they’ll have to differentiate themselves more in order to compete with the e-books.

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    • Oh you definitely should. Although I haven’t even read it yet I’ve had loads of fun with it already! I’ll most likely leave a long review on it once I have read it but I’ll be interested to see what you think too.

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