It was completely predictable that the e-book phenomenon would spawn various enhancements like video and music designed, according to their creators, to “enrich” the reading experience.
I suppose there are some readers who will welcome having their e-books enhanced by such accompaniments. Indeed, I have known many writers who compose their books while listening to music.
Packaging e-books with musical backgrounds has been announced with much fanfare while video book enhancements have already begun their march into the marketplace.
Alas, I will not succumb to such alleged blandishments. Call me a purist, but as a creator of works of the imagination, meaning works of serious fiction, I consider such embellishments intrusions on the author’s intention and the reader’s reception of this intention.
Boiled down to its essence, the author to reader is a one-on-one communication experience. In telling his or her story, the author has plumbed to the depths of his or her subconscious and conceived their characters to pursue their destinies in a parallel world that grows in the author’s imagination in ways that are often mysterious and unexplainable.
In this imaginative world, the white noise of inspiration already fills the reader’s mental space as organ music reverberates in a giant cathedral. One does not require a musical accompaniment to capture and thrill to the emotional suspense of the author’s creation. I intend in no way to negate the beauty and power of music, but words, too, have their intrinsic artistic power to speak to the human psyche and the reading experience is a prime example.
Nor does one need a musical accompaniment to feel the true power, for example, of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Melville’s Moby Dick, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and yes, the Old and New Testament and a long line of fabulous works of the imagination created by authors that have enriched our lives and given us insight and knowledge into the human condition. Indeed, one might say that the music is already inherent in the prose and can be heard by the reader with great emotional impact within the author’s composition.
I know this sounds a bit highfalutin and perhaps flies in the face of those who will cite the movies as a prime example of how musical accompaniment embellishes a story line. The fact is that movie background music is designed as a kind of guide to the emotional high points that manipulate the action on the screen. It is designed to tell you how to feel and anticipate what a movie character is experiencing or is about to experience as the plot unfolds. There is no need for such an accompaniment in reading.
Nevertheless, I do believe there is probably a place for enhanced e-books, especially in the area of young children’s books where moving images and music could be helpful in engaging a child’s interest. I am somewhat tentative in that assessment since my experience with my own children was reading to them without benefit of other sounds except my own voice, which in retrospect seemed sufficient for their rapt attention.
Perhaps, too, musical and reality sounds will be useful in certain genre categories, particularly science fiction and books that are based upon comic book characters.
But the idea of adding anything more than words to the reading experience gives me pause in another area, such as opening the door to adding advertising to e-books. Using e-books as a platform for advertising is a real possibility and, for me, it is chilling.
I well remember going to the movies in London and, for the first time, being trapped into seeing advertising on the screen prior to the features, which I found offensive. I was apparently premature in celebrating the fact that this practice was not then found in American movie theaters.
It is now standard in most movie theaters in America to be forced to watch advertising before the feature is screened, a practice that intrudes on the pleasure of the movie experience. But then, today’s mass-market movies are all about toys, popcorn and selling a captive audience whatever is on offer.
From my perspective, reading has always been both a solitary and sacred celebration of the imagination, a gift of creation from the author to the reader. What worries me is that first will come the music, then the video and once that intrusion is thrust upon us, then will come the advertising. Advertising does, indeed, have its informational uses, but there are limits to its intrusion, especially for the serious and dedicated reader.
Frankly, I don’t want to open a book by a favorite author and be solicited to save 15% or more on car insurance or be pushed to buy the latest cure for acne.