Guest Post: What Need Does This Meet?

Today Lucybird’s Book Blog is hosting our first guest post (mucho excitement!). John Vorhaus is the author of Lucy in the Sky which I reviewed yesterday

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I’m reading a thousand-page history of World War II on my iPhone. It seems ridiculous to try to absorb so large a work on so small a screen, but it works for me. Works better, anyway, than carrying around a book the size of a cinderblock.

Meanwhile, I have a friend who’s reading a thousand-page work of Japanese fiction. He tried to read it on his Kindle and failed completely. After fifty pages or so, he gave up on the ebook, bought the print book, and reports having a “very satisfying read.”

These two different experience got me thinking about the question, “What need does this meet?” in regards to what we read and how we choose to read it in this modern world, where print is not the only option. My goal in reading about World War II was “to acquire information.” I know the story of World War II very well already, and gaining new insights – gathering new data – was something I could easily do, even in bits and pieces, even one small screen at a time. My friend, on the other hand, was after something different: the specific experience of getting lost in a story. For him, the e-reader was not adequate to the task. It didn’t meet his need.

I bring this up because, of course, much thought is being given these days to the question of whether the “dead tree model” (ink on printed page) is doomed to die. It seems pretty clear to me that it is not, not so long as the act of reading continues to meet different needs – and not so long as one of those needs is “to have the book experience.” Good as ebooks are at delivering information, they’re not particularly good at delivering that tactile, page-turning, ink-sniffing experience. They’re getting better at emulating it, of course, and over time print versions and e-versions will continue to converge. But in the meantime, I think it’s helpful to writers and readers alike to understand what a reader’s need is for any given book, and what’s the best way to meet that need.

If your need is to acquire information, clearly the ebook is more efficient than the printed page. You can get the content more quickly, store it more flexibly, and transport it more easily (i.e.,  you don’t have to lug around a cinderblock). But if your need is to have a fulfilling “take me someplace I’ve never been” book-reading experience, the e-version remains (at least as of now) a less adequate alternative.

This is not to praise nor condemn either version. I’m neither a luddite nor a digital crusader. I’m just an author trying to make sense of the post-paper world, and trying to find my place in it. From the realm of creative problem-solving I understand that it’s damn difficult to solve a problem if you can’t first state it, so in order to judge whether the printed word or the e-word is a better platform for my own reading, I start by asking, “What need does this meet?” and go forward from there. It’s a strategy I commend to your attention, not just for deciding whether to read the electronic version or print version of a book, but in confronting all of life’s complexities. When we understand the need we’re trying to meet, we’re already halfway to meeting it.

Which brings me by roundabout means to my new novel, Lucy in the Sky. It’s a coming-of-age tale set in Milwaukee in 1969, and has been described as “a real sixties trip for young seekers and old geezers alike.” It’s available in print and e-book versions, and I can’t tell you which version you’ll enjoy more. I can only say that if your goal is to acquire information (“What was it really like growing up in the sixties?”) then the e-version will suit your needs. If, however, you want to have the “curl up with a good book and travel back in time” experience, then the print version, with pages you can turn and a spine you can crack, will serve you better. (If you like your stories read out loud to you, well, the author-narrated audio version is totally awesome, but that’s a discussion for another time). If you’d like a free taste of my dear Lucy, I direct your attention to www.tinyurl.com/lucy1969, where you’ll find sample chapters and ordering information for the print version and the ebook version alike. For that book – for every book – start by asking yourself what your need is, and whether your chosen format is suited to meeting that need, and you’re well on your way to having the peak reading experience you seek.

John Vorhaus has published five novels and many books on poker. His comedy writing text, The Comic Toolbox, is considered a classic how-to book for writers, and will be making money for someone long after he’s dead, buried and gone. He tweets for no apparent reason @TrueFactBarFact and secretly controls the world from www.johnvorhaus.com.

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