Not Browsing but Reading: Magazines and Books Online

Not Browsing but Reading: Magazines and Books Online

2000-02-11

Perusing websites pertaining to literary matters, Eye magazine cites HTML’s “gaptoothed rawness” as a hindance to readability in ebr (prior to the journal’s redesign).

EYE magazine’s issue 36 (2000) on publication design featured ebr (version 2.0) in a brief section about literature online. Tabbi, Burdick, and Amerika’s response appeared in EYE 37 (Fall 2000).

Despite its omnipresence in daily life, the Internet seems a neglected subject in contemporary literature. We wait anxiously for one of the giants of modern fiction to produce the Great Internet Novel; perhaps Martin Amis is already at work on a fiery tome investigating the new tensions in the human psyche wrought by the e-revolution? One thing however seems certain: when the Great Internet Novel finally arrives, it will appear as ink on paper and not as a stream of electronic pulses on a publisher’s pay-per-view website. Because despite the efforts of media barons, electronic publishers and e-literature enthusiasts to persuade us to read online, human beings appear reluctant to read more than a few lines of text on a computer screen. And this is understandable; the process is usually arduous, unsatisfactory and probably one of those things like the one-legged high jump, simply not meant to be done. The death of print, stridently predicted by Web evangelists at the outset of the cyber revolution, has not happened yet. Nor does it seem likely to; e-books have not supplanted printed books and e-zines have failed to stem the seemingly endless flow of glossy magazines. But a trawl around the sites offering online literature tends to confuse the issue The current e-book smash hit is Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet: 16,000 words for $2.50, and apparently no shortage of takers. In the interest of research, I set out to find a site willing to let me read the master’s foray into e-horror. I ended up at www.glassbook.com, which offered me the chance to download The Glassbook Reader, a mini-browser utilising Adobe PDF technology and offering what the developers call “a high-fidelity reading experience,” which it does. The Glassbook Reader downloaded King’s short story in less than five minutes. The appearance is pleasant, typographic detail is excellent and in all details, bar the faint milky-ness common to all onscreen information, it faithfully replicates the character and style of the printed page.

[…] Elsewhere, more highbrow literary sites offer electronic alternatives to inky periodicals. www.spikemagazine.com and www.richmondreview.co.uk are brave attempts to make palatable the experience of reading large amounts of text online. Both lack the poise and elegance of www.lrb.co.uk, the site of the London Review of Books and a paradigm of readability on the Internet. A more adventurous literary experience is offered at www.altx.com/ebr. A site for those interested in the literary postential of hypertext, ebr sets out to challenge the “hegemony of narrative.” It founders on the familiar problems characteristic of all websites offering extensive amounts of text: the mediating effect of the computer screen itself; the mild nausea induced by scrolling through acres of type; and the gaptoothed rawness of HTML text.