E-books aren’t enough, says author

Canadians still can’t get the Kindle, Amazon’s lusted after gadget that’s pushing ebooks into the mainstream, but that’s fine with tech-savvy author Kate Pullinger, who has bigger visions for electronic literature than simply making digital copies of paperbacks.

TORONTO — Canadians still can’t get the Kindle, Amazon’s lusted after gadget that’s pushing ebooks into the mainstream, but that’s fine with tech-savvy author Kate Pullinger, who has bigger visions for electronic literature than simply making digital copies of paperbacks.

Pullinger, whose book The Mistress of Nothing is nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award, says she’s definitely looking forward to getting a digital reader that can carry a library’s load of books in her purse.

But before she makes that big purchase, she hopes ebooks and modern literature evolve beyond the simple written word.

“A problem for me with the e-readers is they basically just replicate the book — I’m perfectly happy with books, thank you very much,” Pullinger said in an interview from her home in London, England.

“Electronic replication of a book is pretty uninteresting for me. The more interesting potential lies in . . . whole new ways of telling a story that use other media. But the new devices aren’t with us yet.”

Canadians currently have few options when it comes to ebook readers. Sony was first on the market with its $299 device, although its release in this country didn’t see the type of excitement generated by Amazon’s much-hyped Kindle, available in the U.S. since late 2007.

Many cellphones and MP3 players can also handle ebooks, although their screens are much smaller and less user-friendly.

Pullinger, a native of Cranbrook, B.C., has been experimenting with digital fiction, like her web-based series of stories “Inanimate Alice,” which combine sound and images to complement the tale of a young girl growing up with her imaginary digital friend, Brad.

She has also been involved in a fiction project that uses cellphones as readers for episodic stories, a concept that is already huge in Japan.

Keitai shosetsu, which is Japanese for cellphone novels, have even gone on to become bestsellers once re-released in traditional book form. But the idea isn’t entirely new, Pullinger notes, and is a throwback to the times when Charles Dickens serialized stories.

“It’s very much based on something . . . from the Victorian times, but now it’s serialized stories that come to you in three- to five-minute snippets, that make good use of audio, whilst keeping the text fairly minimal but readable,” she said. “The technology isn’t quite right for us here yet, but I think that’s around the corner, and that’s something I’m really interested in.”

Eoin Colfer, author of And Another Thing, the latest story in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, is working on putting his stories onto the Nintendo DS, a portable gaming device, and hopes the move will turn young gamers into avid readers.

“You can just read the book (on the DS), but if you see a character you can tap him and get his portfolio, and I think that’s great,” Colfer said.

Colfer said he uses an iPhone to read books on the go and doesn’t think the gradual move toward ebooks will harm the publishing world.

“I’m not bemoaning it at all — the death of books — which I don’t think is going to happen,” he said.

Colfer envisions ebooks borrowing ideas from DVDs and including special features to complement a story, like interviews with the author or experts, and multimedia like sketches, images or videos.

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