Improving the Reading Experience on the iPad
Sidenotes or footnotes?
I’ve never been a big fan of footnotes in non-fiction, but I love them in fiction. In one of my favorite novels, The House of Leaves an extensive parallel narrative takes place in the footnotes. In the Moomin Troll series by Toove Jansson, footnotes are used to give fun facts to the reader from the author. The care put into Jansson’s footnotes is amazing and it makes her books a joy to read.
With books going digital this art is in danger of being lost. Most e-readers do not support footnotes or worse they downgrade them to the status of endnotes. Since Jörgits and The End of Winter relies heavily on footnotes to add context and humor to the narrative we’re designing a way for readers to enjoy them as sidenotes viewable on demand. I’ve always found sidenotes more elegant than footnotes and in a digital medium we can improve on this stylistic feature even more.
In a traditional book footnotes and sidenotes can have the unfortunate effect of tugging at the readers attention needlessly and, as a result, slow down the reading experience. In the Jörgits sidenotes are hyperlinked and will open a side panel that contains the note. You can see a mockup of the proposed functionality below.
This allows the reader to chose whether they want to access the note or ignore it. It allows the author (yours truly) to have as much fun as I want with the notes. For example, there could be hyperlinks leading the reader to more in depth information, diagrams of the space ship or photographs that inspired the text, all without distracting the reader unless of course they want to be.
Having a large numbers of characters in a book can be fun, but it can also be quite challenging (remember War & Peace? it wasn’t until I was half way into the book and 3 months later that I finally knew who was who). In the Jörgits, we have seven aliens to keep track of, Jenny, Joonas, the bad guy and a slew of supporting characters. How will you keep track of who’s who? That’s where the character sheets come in. Each character’s name is hyperlinked and tapping on it will open a side panel that contains the characters image, a small description, and their latest tweets. What’s so fun about this? Well, over time we can be updating and enriching the character’s story as the series grows.
Social Media Integration
Some of the critiques of apps and e-readers is that they are isolated from the internet. At first I scoffed at this critique. I actually liked how the reading experience on an iPad was more quiet and zen-like than the incessant chatter of web pages with their comments, likes, and sharing. But as I thought about it more, I realized that Twitter presented a unique opportunity to share in depth information with the reader.
One of the central themes in the Jörgits is climate change and envioronmental degredation. As an author I’ve been struggling with how much factual information I should share with the reader. However, I also realized my own limitations, I’m not a scientist, nor did I want this to be a science book and here’s where Twitter comes in. By having the characters tweet I can point readers to important information about environmental issues. Rather than having a lenghty paragraph about the danger of deforestation, I can have Joonas tweeting about an article he just read in the New York Times instead. This keeps the content both fresh and up to date. You can imagine how powerful this concept can be if we wield it with care. The characters can inspire the readers to take action and learn more for themselves. Of course, it doesn’t always need to be so serious they could also just be telling you about their favorite new discovery, coconut flavored ice cream with mangoes.