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Could eBooks Be the Breath of Fresh Air the Tech-Resistant Novel Needs?

eBooks have been both praised and decried by readers. They conveniently provide the most important features of printed books while at the same time collapsing the tactile and, according to some research, read experience of the printed word. But the flexible designs and fonts (or lack thereof) seen in most eBook files have spoken to some experimentally minded writers as a wellspring of creative opportunity. Google's Creative Lab has provided a platform on which authors can answer this call.

The project is spearheaded by Visual Editions, a London-based publisher founded in 2010 that creates beautifully designed, typographically playful, and often illustrated editions of classic literature as well as contemporary publications of their own.

"People sometimes say that physical books have qualities that do not transfer well to digital. We want to show that digital has narrative qualities that cannot transfer to print," Visual Editions says of this new initiative, in its FAQ. In a fittingly linguistically playful way, the list of qualities they provide includes terms like "data-led, locative, generative, algorithmic, sensor-based, fluid, non-linear, expandable, cookie-ish, personalized, proximal, augmented, real-time, time-sensitive, adaptive, collaborative, and share-y."

The first wave of books, Entrances & Exits by Reif Larsen and The Truth About Cats & Dogs by San Riviere and Joe Dunthorne, already feature a smattering of these technologies. Entrances & Exits is illustrated using Google Maps; it's a Borgesian love story that allows you not to just see the locations being referenced in the story, but pan around within them and experience them like a true city-dweller.

The latter title is a collaboration between a poet and a novelist and features a visual identity of pulsating dots and the option to switch between the two authors' sections at any time. Though its narrative pretense isn't as invested in the technology as with Larsen's work, it sure beats flipping between the front and the back of a real-life book with a 'split' organization.

The books retail for $4.25 (though they are currently discounted to $3.25). Two more books will be forthcoming in the spring: Strata, by Tommy Lee Edwards & I Speak Machine, which "unfolds," and All This Rotting By Alan Trotter, which "loses its memory." One can only guess what web technologies they will bring into play.

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