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March 10, 2010

In the End Is Still the Words

Jesse Lansner

If reading Rapture Ready – or at least the chapter that appeared in The New Yorker – has left you with an interest in all things Bible-publishing related, you'll want to check out this article by Chris Faraone in the Boston Phoenix on how many of the innovations in e-reading on the iPhone are coming from Bible aps.

If you want to see what a 21st century reading experience should look like — one that enables you to bookmark, notate, listen to, and share passages instantly on Facebook and Twitter — the marketplace you're looking for is e-Bibles. ... [O]ne version with a social-networking component even allows believers to search for other folks who want to chat about specific chapters. More so, it can tap a smart phone's GPS to locate local prayer groups with similar affinities.

And it is e-Bibles that have helped push technology forward, by allowing users to seamlessly flip between scanning on an iPhone and reading on a laptop (without losing their page). Ditto the ability to switch, mid-stream, between Standard English and dozens of translations, or jump to an audio-book version, while keeping place to the sentence. Learned readers can even teleport from one particular chapter/verse in the King James Version to the same place in the New International Version. The future is now.

Is it? The first set of features would translate well to other books – the ability to bookmark and annotate is already common on e-readers – and might even improve the quality of my Twitter feed. (New York magazine book critic Sam Anderson, is already tweeting the best sentence he reads each day, though presumably he has to type all 144 characters himself.) But would anyone really use their GPS to find a book club nearby that's discussing the latest Dan Brown or Elizabeth Gilbert opus? Or toggle between a half-dozen translations of Homer or Tolstoy? Even Faraone recognizes that some of these extras may only be useful for the Bible:

Still, the Bible's greatest asset for e-book adaptation is its age-old annotation, and e-Bible developers have been inspired by operability. Users can switch between languages and translations because the Bible has been parsed the same way forever. (Trying to accomplish the same thing with, say, the unabridged James Patterson collection would be considerably more labor intensive.)

But why would anyone would try that with Patterson's novels? Isn't the plain text enough? Yes, some non-fiction could use the extras – I'd probably be getting a lot more out of Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise if I had the companion media from his website more readily available – but most books, both fiction and non-fiction, are written to be read as is. And while we may start to see collectors' edition e-books full of DVD-type extras – deleted chapters, early drafts, editors' comments, author interviews – the way most of us do the majority or our reading will not change simply because the form of the book is now digital.

Which is fine. E-readers, like iPods, will change the way we buy, carry, and store books. [This is a potential boon for those of us who find our apartments overwhelmed with hardcovers and paperbacks, though some folks are upset that we won't know how smart they are unless we see Poe and Artaud on their shelves. Linda Holmes thinks we should rely on "rely on behavior and conversation for that," but that's far too much work.] But the way we read will probably stay the same. The E-Bibles succeed not because they transform the particular way we read the Bible, but because they match it. E-readers will succeed based on how well they do the same for the rest of literature.


Actually, Tolstoy and Homer are EXACTLY the two authors for whom I've already toggled among a half-dozen translators each. So, yeah, that would be a boon.

This is just an electronic beard for Grinder.

Shouldn't the head read "IT'S still the words?" And maybe next time you post the first graph and have a "read more" click-on.

Maybe it's supposed to be "In the end, instill the words"?

"In the beginning was the Word."

And I would gladly put a "read more" button if I could figure out how to do it, but it doesn't look like that's an option.

Yeah I think Instill the words makes a little more sense to me

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