In his “Books in the age of the iPad,” Craig Mod[ular (lolololol)] does an excellent job of advertising for Apple. I can only assume this box:
is blank because we all know exactly who he’s sponsored by; any more would just be belaboring the point. He argues that there are two types of printed books, the Formed and the Formless, that the latter should be done away with (for a whole slue of moral, social and otherwise arbitrary reasons) and that the future of reading resides in new explorations of the “canvas,” be it print or digital, through which we consume written text.
Mod begins by dividing written content into two forms:
He further divides his categories by comparing the formless to a “waterfall,” as content that can easily be poured into any container (I don’t think he’s ever seen a waterfall), “content divorced from layout.” Most novels he defines as formless, and far from decrying their ‘death’ (or refuting its occurrence, as we’ve also seen), he says: “Good riddance.” He is in favor of the ‘death’ of the majority of novels because they are what he deems throwaway books, “airplane paperbacks,” books that are the first to go when you move house, books whose form as a codex has nothing to do with their actual content, and is therefore unnecessary to that content. He does not only define the books themselves as “throwaway,” but also denigrates their authors and audiences largely homogenously—comparing all writers of formless books to Danielle Steele, all readers to unimportant complainers, who “lament the loss of the printed book” for reasons of “comfort” alone.
Seeing as he believes comfort, convenience, even lazy sentiment to be the holdouts of the ‘formless’ book, it is perhaps no wonder Mod believes them doomed (and good riddance). People who cling to formless books in their book form, he claims, pay little attention to the “meaning” of the text; the concerns of these people being purely aesthetic (“It doesn’t like bath tubs”), they have no validity, as the “convenience of digital text…already far trumps that of traditional printed matter,” and continues to improve with other features. He further denigrates the value of printed (formless) books and their readers by showing how the former can be harmful to humanity, while the latter is at least ignorant of and if not complicit with in this harm. Maintaining the practice of printing (throwaway) books not only prevents us from imagining “new modes of storytelling,” it leads to harmful “environmental impact” and even a decreased overall quality/value of things printed.
Mod concludes his piece with an ode to the iPad; “The formula used to be simple” he says, referring to the formula for ceasing to print ‘formless’ content he himself has just laid out.
“The iPad changes this.”
What Mod believes the iPad changes is the experience of digitized reading, combining the “readability” of the Kindle with the “intimacy and comfort” of printed books and even adds its own, new “canvas [which is] both large and versatile enough to allow for well considered layouts.” So, the iPad has the potential to transfer both formless and definite formed content to a digital layout. He gives the example of placing “chapters on a horizontal plane with content on a fluid vertical plane,” following with images to illustrate this idea.
Mod says this is a “new form of storytelling,” but he relies on an incredibly narrow definition of storytelling. What about cave paintings? Maps? Ancient maps, with their monsters drawn into the margins, intricate compasses, were both useful and aesthetic storytelling devices—even the first form of ‘speculative’ fiction, it could be said, powerful in the suggestion of a continuing, never-ending story (of the world). Essentially, Mod is blurring the lines between “story” and “codex,” lines which we and other authors we’ve read have defined as necessary when entering a(n intelligent) discussion of the ‘death of the book.’
I’m also not really sure about his definition of “formless” vs. “definite” content, most particularly, the fact that he offers only these two definitions. What about Galerie, crossing between print and digital, content so unreliant on form it invites deformation, trans-formation, reformation?
The most interesting part, to me, Mod glosses over in a few words: “the seemingly insignificant fact that we touch the text.” We touch the text; Mod refers to the simple connection between fingers and page, but we do more than that. Galerie is an obvious example, but I have plenty of other books whose pages I’ve written on, folded, (marked, doodled on, crossed-out, cut, torn, stained, cross-referenced to other parts of it or others), in fact I would say the majority of books I own might be illegible to another reader. Used books read differently from new ones, because they have been touched by their former readers; the library, which Mod calls “forgotten, far away,” is not merely a container for books, it is a place we touch text, interact with text, re/(co)creating new knowledge; they are a safe place for the book(ish) to interact, places promoting reading/storytelling as a communal, experiential, imaginative act, unbound from the printed page itself. What do we lose if we lose the ability to touch the text, if, say, the iPad crashes and we lose all our notes, our experience of the text?