Tag Archives: video

Are Enhanced eBooks Really Enhancing Anything?

One of the things I hear often about the children’s book market is how picture books are suffering. Shelf space is evaporating for them as Barnes & Noble and Borders scale back their number of stores. And kids–at least those who read at all–are jumping into full-fledged novels much younger than they did even ten years ago. End result: Less demand for picture books.

The iPad is often touted as the savior for a re-imagined picture book, the enhanced edition. I’m still not all that sure that I get what a book can do on the iPad that makes it better, but I started to think that maybe I should get me one just to make sure I’m not missing anything. Then I came across Oceanhouse Media. They produce ebook versions of Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears.

Here’s an example of what they’ve done with the Grinch on the iPhone:

I love that Oceanhouse is trying to take picture books into this new medium, but, um… why not just get the paper book here? Both kid and mom look so uncomfortable, squished around this screen. The only real advantage isn’t an advantage at all. Parents no longer need to read the book to their kids. The app will do that for them. Mom is there in the video of this Grinch app, but she’s pretty much superfluous.

So… rather than going on a rant about how I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my mom and Where the Wild Things Are or, a few decades later, my nephew and No, David!, I’ll just say I don’t get it. On their site, Oceanhouse indicates that they’re not particlarly interested in developing concepts for single apps, but would like to hear from owners of “branded content.” That pretty much says the value in these apps is Seuss or the Berenstain Bears, not the app itself. It’s all in the branding, not the so-called enhancement.

Maybe this new medium will one day re-invigorate the picture book, but what we’ve seen so far isn’t it. These apps need to do something new, something unheard of before, something not possible before. They can’t just reformat picture books with little cues about objects in them, but need to invent a totally new art form. In the meantime, I’ll stick with picture books. Maybe everyone on my list this year will get one, new titles by new authors.


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Video Trailer for It’s a Book by Lane Smith

Here’s a one minute video that offers yet more insight on the digital transition. It’s the book trailer for It’s a Book by Lane Smith, though part of me wonders if (as is often the case with movies) this trailer might not be better than the thing it promotes.

Of course, it’s ironic that a video book trailer is being used to promote a book that pokes fun at all things digital, but that’s getting nitpicky. Perhaps the fact that this video exists means the doom and gloom days for ebooks will soon be behind us.

As someone who spent a good chunk of this weekend with my nose stuck in an old-fashioned paper book… I get it.

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Sir Arthur Canon Doyle on Sherlock Holmes and Psychic Matters

I love the raw quality of this video. The audio alone makes it worth ten minutes from your day. Doyle has a wonderful raspy voice and is no slouch in the vocabulary department. He speaks of his inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, how the character launched from modest beginnings to become a “monstrous growth.” Then he delves into the “psychic matter” which he found to be a more worthwhile pursuit than literature in his latter years.

Best of all: his interactions with the dog. That’s one happy dog.

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Gary Shteyngart Book Trailer: It’s Not Do Authors Read, but Can They Read?

With the internet kerfluffle this week over whether or not Tin House has the right to require that submitters prove that they’ve actually bought a book, Gary Shteyngart unintentionally weighs in with a highly entertaining book trailer. It promotes his third novel, Super Sad True Love Story. The question shouldn’t be: do authors read? It should be: can they read? It’s hilarious. Shteyngart was one of the New Yorker 20 under 40. Here’s a peak at one who they’ve crowned a “voice of our generation.”

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Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Short Story Writers

I first encountered Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. when it was published a decade ago. It collects his short stories that didn’t make the cut for Welcome to the Monkey House. Most were originally published in magazines like Colliers and Saturday Evening Post, back in the enviable days when writers could work through an apprenticeship by crafting short stores.

Having already read almost everything by Vonnegut, I devoured these previously lost stories, comforted by the fact that some of the cracks in the plaster showed. These aren’t the best stories. Even great talent needs time to develop, but the stories in some way showed how one might set off on such a path.

Something in those stories must have stuck with me through the years since. I’ve been working on an entirely new story, and feeling a bit lost. It’s a different sort of tale from those that normally come to me, and reminds me of the ideas that Vonnegut explored. I’ve been hankering to go back and reread Bagombo Snuff Box, which I borrowed at the time so would need to track down a fresh copy.

In the process, I came across his rules for short story writers. It’s amazing these aren’t more well known. Here’s a video of Vonnegut reading his advice, which almost makes the accompanying montage worth watching:

And here they are written out so they’ll stick in my head:
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel that time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such a complete understanding of what is going on, where, and why that they could finish the story themselves should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I like the last one in particular. (I’ve been a sadist for ages now.) One of the things I keep coming back to with my writing is clarity. It should be crystal clear to the reader each step of the way what’s going on, and for the most part why it’s all happening.

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Short Story Writing Tips from Ray Bradbury

It’s a Friday and the sun is actually out in Seattle, so cutting straight to this Ray Bradbury video that’s chock full of tips for the short story writer. There’s three that jump out at me. One, keep a large blow-up dinosaur in the living room. Two, don’t wear pants (or at least very big ones). Three, and perhaps most important, drink a six pack of Coors straight from the can. These tips aren’t specifically called out, but they are shown–and we all know that the real art of the story is in the telling, not the showing.

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Alexander Calder’s Circus, Play Art

While Michelangelo drew me into the Seattle Art Museum last month, their Alexander Calder exhibit (runs through April 11) may well have rivaled the master’s scribbles. The thick black circles on the floor around the bigger mobiles, that you weren’t supposed to step past, were a tad odd, but overall what’s not to like about art that you’re encouraged to blow on? Art that moves. In the back though, there was one of the more entertaining bits. They had a film playing Cirque Calder, which drew a few of the polite chortles that they allow in museums.

Since then I found the videos on YouTube. I love watching this grown man, and not a young man at that, playing with these elaborate dolls that he built himself. He gets really into it, in poor French no less. Calder explains his thoughts around the circus near the start at 1:12, but my favorite part of this clip is the Western stuff at 2:42. And who is that woman at 3:44? Probably his wife wondering what she got herself into.

It’s interesting that Calder worked on and amused himself with toys before he started on the mobiles that have since become synonymous with his name. Isn’t this what art is really about? That thing you do when everything else gets out of the way. Play. I used to have a post-it note stuck to my desk that read: YOU ARE PLAYING! Eventually it felt a bit too stern, so I took it down. Did I really need to shout about it?

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