BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz has been talking to Penguin Group Chief Executive John Makinson about the future of books.
“I don’t expect that readers will open Jane Austen on page one and read through to page 300 and then put the book down,” he says.
“I think they will go on little journeys into other media and other conversations and they will want to do research into the dance moves or recipes of the period or look up info about Jane Austen online or talk to their friends on social networks about the experience of reading the book.”
“Yuk, yuk, yuk,” I thought immediately. Who could wish to be distracted from the pleasure of reading – especially Austen – by something mundane like cooking? I’m all for keeping to the linear narrative and the way it lets you creates another world to slip into. I’m convinced it will never die out.
I’m irritated at the thought of video or other bits of media distracting from reading. And those experimental texts that ask readers to choose how the story progresses seem, to me, simply bizarre.
Even in conversations, I’ll steer them back on track, once they go off in different directions. If anyone asks, ‘What was I saying just then?’ I’m the one to tell them.
Sure, I will look up something on the internet that I’ve been reading about, but only when I’ve finished reading.
But what am I talking about? Surely staying on the straight and narrow isn’t always good? I’m the first to agree with what Eli Harris is saying in his new book The Filter Bubble: be wary of search engines that narrow down information, making it too relevant and personal to you. It means you’re less likely to come across new things.
I’m very fond of serendipity. I like rooting around in the famous ‘jenga’ style bookpiles at Glasgow’s Voltaire and Rousseau Bookshop for a gem of a book for a quid. Just two days after he died I found Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts.
I’m reading John Gray’s Straw Dogs and amongst his demolition of every political theory, philosophy and religion, so far I’m most likely to remember the point that the happiest people are those that don’t have to make choices but act as seems right, spontaneously.
So books, or novels, embody both staying on one track but also being carried along on a linear structure, one which you don’t have to choose. Why did the new medium of film persist with the fictional narrative form when it could have taken any direction?
Reading creates new worlds, without the distractions of the present one.