Pet Book 10: Digital Materialities

In a previous post, I discussed the actual digital editions of Arctic Explorations: the images of the pages, the Kindle edition, and the text edition. In order to avoid repeating myself, I want to take this week’s conversation of Digital Materialities in a slightly different direction by talking about the different ways to represent the content of my pet book.

I was mainly inspired for this blog post by our discussion of what makes ebooks “material” and how The Pedlar Lady of Cushing Cross is a book. One of the main ideas underlying both of those discussions was the idea that the creation of these ebooks would not be possible to develop without the history of the book as a physical object. While many books today are remade as ebooks, we also briefly discussed the idea of books that are only produced and released as ebooks. From there, as the discussion opened up into what digital content counts as a “book” I thought about not only how Arctic Explorations was produced (as discussed in last week’s post), but also how it could be done if it were produced today.

Travel writing is still a popular genre today, but the method of distribution has changed a lot in recent years with the development of digital technologies. If Arctic Explorations was written today, I think it’s not far off to say that it would be written as a blog. Because of its famous explorer-author and the length of time it covers, it would probably be a pretty popular blog as well. Though I haven’t read every page of my book, I know that it definitely has a lot of drama and exciting events that would keep readers coming back every time to read more. It’s funny that in the case of my pet book, it originally lacked any semblance of serialization but the best way for it to have been published in the present is in a completely serialized method. Granted, the blog method makes the most sense for it because it could have been disseminated during the actual expedition, rather than having to wait until after they returned. I wonder how this would have changed the content of the story. As I mentioned last week, a lot of the darker moments from the expedition were glazed over by Kane, but perhaps they would have been explained in more detailed if he had written them out and published them in the moment. Since Kane probably would have been able to post from the middle of the Arctic in the present, there would always be someone out there to read the post immediately before he could alter it as well.

In spite of how perfect I think the blog potential would have been for this book, I think it’s important to say that if it were originally published as a blog, I don’t know if it could be called a “book” anymore. Personally, I can’t liken blogs to books the same way I can liken ebooks to books. It’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility that the blog posts could be compiled into the book Arctic Explorations but I’m not sure you could call a blog on a website as a book in and of itself. Therefore, I think reader perception is very different if it were read all at once as it is versus in installments specifically presented only online. With the availability of digital sharing in today’s world, I don’t think this modern Arctic Explorations as-a-blog would even need to be reproduced, even in just an ebook form, when it is already available digitally. In a way, I feel like that also changes the material aspect of the story that it tells. When you’re reading it as a physical book, the story has a “real” quality based on the fact that you’re holding a huge book, whereas when it is published during the journey as a blog, you as a reader have more of the feeling that you’re experiencing the work even though you’re thousands of miles from the Arctic because of the fact that you don’t know where it is going or how it is going to end and—importantly—neither does the author. I think this fact is more important than Dickens not knowing the end of Bleak House because in this case, there is a distinct possibility that the author himself just might die before the journey is over, which adds to the suspense and is definitely not something that is present in the physical book form because you knew that in order for it to have been written after the return, the author must have lived. It’s the same with books that are super long because any time there is drama in the middle of the book that threatens the main character’s life, you know the character isn’t going to die because you still have 300 pages of their story to get through (Game of Thrones might be a notable exception, but that’s certainly the case in Arctic Explorations).

Overall, I’m definitely not confident about what counts as a book, but I stand by “blog ≠ book, even if the content is the same because maybe the content wouldn’t be the same, who knows?”.

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