In Front of Kmart 2.0

LTCLost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O’Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other’s work in series, with changes tracked between.

The first remix of Cate Kennedy’s In Front of Kmart comes comes via Krissy Kneen. Use the tabs to flick between versions of the story.

I was sitting on a plastic bench outside Kmart in a shopping mall. Five days before Christmas.

A young harassed mother near me was losing the plot with her young son.

The kid was about four, rattled, exhausted, as everyone else trudging around.

Christmas carol muzak swamped the air. The Kmart staff sported synthetic Santa hats, stony-faced, manhandling boxes across the registers.

‘Listen to me!’ she yelled, her face close to his. ‘That’s it! We’re going home now, do you hear me?’

She shifted her massive plastic bags of Christmas shopping, gave him a good shake. The boy tried to direct his eyes somewhere else, out of the line of fire of her furious glare. Maybe she expected more resistance from him. Maybe she thought the idea of going home, far away from this wonderland of noise and toys, would make him cry and plead. She tightened her grip on his arm and shook him again.

‘Santa’s not coming,’ she shouted. ‘Santa hates you.’

The little boy went very still. He closed down.

‘Mary’s Boy Child’ looped inanely. He absorbed this, deafened, stunned, eyes wide, the world blown open.

I caught my husband’s eye. The notion of standing up and intervening hung between us. It held me in place like an undertow. This boy and his mother were bit-players in a drama about a faltering marriage – the two of them nothing more than extras.

 *

I stood up. I walked over to the mother and her son. In this other story the mother – somehow, implausibly, allowed me to crouch down in front of her son, ignoring her, and speak to him.

‘It’s not you,’ I said to the white-faced, trembling little boy. ‘Remember what I’m telling you. It’s not about you.’

 *

The moment hung there, the chance to change the narrative. I assessed the energy and grief and courage it would require, to thresh and flounder against that debilitating undertow and stand up and do it.

I looked over at my husband who would no longer be my husband only a few months from now.  I noticed his immobilising grief, nothing to do with this boy or his mother at all.

 *

The boy would be eighteen now and I think of him all the time. I can tinker with the script all I like but this is the story I’m left with. Had I risen, I would have been the catalyst. I would have been someone else’s turning point.

Had I risen, I wonder if I would even have had to write this now.

 

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Five days before Christmas, I was sitting on a plastic bench outside Kmart in a shopping mall, gathering strength for the onslaught of buying gifts nobody wanted or needed from department stores I usually did anything to avoid entering.

A young harassed mother near me was losing the plot with her young son.

The kid was about four and was clearly feeling as rattled, exhausted and overwhelmed as everyone else trudging around – or at least, as I was.

Christmas carol muzak swamped the air. The young Kmart staff, while remaining stony-faced, sported synthetic Santa hats as they manhandled boxes of crap across the registers.

It had been a lean year financially, one I had spent away from Australia living in a far poorer country, which I was missing so deeply I felt almost immobilised with the sense that I’d made a terrible mistake in returning. The last place in the world I wanted to be at that moment was outside a megastore glittering with tinsel and merchandise, watching a young woman grab her little boy by the arm and start shouting at him.

‘Listen to me!’ she yelled, her face close to his. ‘That’s it! We’re going home now, do you hear me?’

She shifted her massive plastic bags of Christmas shopping out of her way with her leg so she could give him a good shake. The boy tried to direct his eyes somewhere else, out of the line of fire of her furious glare. Maybe she expected more resistance from him. Maybe she thought the idea of going home, far away from this wonderland of noise and toys, would make him crack and start crying and pleading. When it didn’t, her fury increased. She tightened her grip on his arm and shook him again.

‘Santa’s not coming,’ she shouted. ‘Santa hates you.’

The little boy went very still. He closed down.

Nothing stopped for him, not his mother’s hysterical frustration, not the grim strangers striding all around him, not ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ inanely looping on the mall tannoy. It all just went on around him as he absorbed this blow, like a child on a street in the wake of a detonation; deafened, stunned, eyes wide, the world blown open.

 *

I stood up and walked over to them. I put my hand on the mother’s shoulder. ‘You need a break,’ I said. ‘You don’t mean that. I know you don’t. Here – let me take your little boy for a while and you have a break in that café there. Just sit in there and rest and I’ll take him for a walk outside and find a tree somewhere and sit under it. Then later you can say sorry and go home and wrap up these presents together and put them under the tree. How does that sound?’

*

No, I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. I caught my husband’s eye and knew he shared my unhappiness at being back in Australia, caught here in the very vortex of commercialism we both despised, witnessing something so miserable that it flooded us both with fresh misery.

I haven’t mentioned my husband sitting there until now, but let me paint him into the scene now. I need this for context, for narrative, to make you understand why I didn’t rise to my feet, propelled by righteous anger and a larger, calmer compassion, and approach that seething young woman at the very end of her tether. I looked over at him and for a second the notion of standing up and intervening hung between us, then I felt a wave of pure despair. It held me in place like an undertow.

 *

Believe me, I feel with you the narrative lockstep which now requires me to expand on this despair, to illustrate how this vignette is now progressing accordingly to mention that our marriage was teetering at that point, limping along on the baldest of tyres, almost out of gas. That we had no energy in ourselves to alleviate each other’s misery, that we had lost the power and the will to do so. To turn this story to our endless true subject: myself. To make this boy and his mother bit-players in a drama about a faltering marriage, to show how this moment was the all-important tipping point, then moving on to the Me Show – the two of them nothing more than extras. Catalysts. It’s typical of life, I am sure you will agree, to provide us with our turning-point catalysts outside Kmart, to allow us to use others in this way.

 *

Wait. I don’t want to go there. I stood up. I walked over to the mother and her son. The mother – somehow, implausibly, I’ll work on this part later – allowed me to crouch down in front of her son, ignoring her, and speak to him.

‘It’s not you,’ I said to the white-faced, trembling little boy. ‘You’re fantastic. Do you hear me? You’re a great kid. Don’t worry – your mum’s under a lot of stress and adults say lots of crazy things they wish they hadn’t said later. OK? Remember what I’m telling you. It’s not you.’

 *

No, I didn’t. You know I didn’t. The moment hung there, the chance to change the narrative. I assessed the energy and grief and courage it would require, to thresh and flounder against that debilitating undertow and stand up and do it.

I looked over at my husband, lost in his own immobilising grief.

I’ll tell you, although I don’t need to now, that the relationship crashed and burned a few short months later. It’s enough that you know that I’m left with this – myself sitting, doing nothing, and that boy would be eighteen now and I think of him all the time. I can tinker with the script all I like but this is the story I’m left with. Had I risen, I would have been the catalyst. I would have been someone else’s turning point.

Had I risen, I wonder if I would even have had to write this now.

 

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In Front of Kmart

LTCLost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O’Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other’s work in series, with changes tracked between.

This series commences with an original work by Cate Kennedy. Check in again next week to read the first remix of Cate’s story.

Five days before Christmas, I was sitting on a plastic bench outside Kmart in a shopping mall, gathering strength for the onslaught of buying gifts nobody wanted or needed from department stores I usually did anything to avoid entering.

A young harassed mother near me was losing the plot with her young son.

The kid was about four and was clearly feeling as rattled, exhausted and overwhelmed as everyone else trudging around – or at least, as I was.

Christmas carol muzak swamped the air. The young Kmart staff, while remaining stony-faced, sported synthetic Santa hats as they manhandled boxes of crap across the registers.

It had been a lean year financially, one I had spent away from Australia living in a far poorer country, which I was missing so deeply I felt almost immobilised with the sense that I’d made a terrible mistake in returning. The last place in the world I wanted to be at that moment was outside a megastore glittering with tinsel and merchandise, watching a young woman grab her little boy by the arm and start shouting at him.

‘Listen to me!’ she yelled, her face close to his. ‘That’s it! We’re going home now, do you hear me?’

She shifted her massive plastic bags of Christmas shopping out of her way with her leg so she could give him a good shake. The boy tried to direct his eyes somewhere else, out of the line of fire of her furious glare. Maybe she expected more resistance from him. Maybe she thought the idea of going home, far away from this wonderland of noise and toys, would make him crack and start crying and pleading. When it didn’t, her fury increased. She tightened her grip on his arm and shook him again.

‘Santa’s not coming,’ she shouted. ‘Santa hates you.’

The little boy went very still. He closed down.

Nothing stopped for him, not his mother’s hysterical frustration, not the grim strangers striding all around him, not ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ inanely looping on the mall tannoy. It all just went on around him as he absorbed this blow, like a child on a street in the wake of a detonation; deafened, stunned, eyes wide, the world blown open.

 *

I stood up and walked over to them. I put my hand on the mother’s shoulder. ‘You need a break,’ I said. ‘You don’t mean that. I know you don’t. Here – let me take your little boy for a while and you have a break in that café there. Just sit in there and rest and I’ll take him for a walk outside and find a tree somewhere and sit under it. Then later you can say sorry and go home and wrap up these presents together and put them under the tree. How does that sound?’

*

No, I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. I caught my husband’s eye and knew he shared my unhappiness at being back in Australia, caught here in the very vortex of commercialism we both despised, witnessing something so miserable that it flooded us both with fresh misery.

I haven’t mentioned my husband sitting there until now, but let me paint him into the scene now. I need this for context, for narrative, to make you understand why I didn’t rise to my feet, propelled by righteous anger and a larger, calmer compassion, and approach that seething young woman at the very end of her tether. I looked over at him and for a second the notion of standing up and intervening hung between us, then I felt a wave of pure despair. It held me in place like an undertow.

 *

Believe me, I feel with you the narrative lockstep which now requires me to expand on this despair, to illustrate how this vignette is now progressing accordingly to mention that our marriage was teetering at that point, limping along on the baldest of tyres, almost out of gas. That we had no energy in ourselves to alleviate each other’s misery, that we had lost the power and the will to do so. To turn this story to our endless true subject: myself. To make this boy and his mother bit-players in a drama about a faltering marriage, to show how this moment was the all-important tipping point, then moving on to the Me Show – the two of them nothing more than extras. Catalysts. It’s typical of life, I am sure you will agree, to provide us with our turning-point catalysts outside Kmart, to allow us to use others in this way.

 *

Wait. I don’t want to go there. I stood up. I walked over to the mother and her son. The mother – somehow, implausibly, I’ll work on this part later – allowed me to crouch down in front of her son, ignoring her, and speak to him.

‘It’s not you,’ I said to the white-faced, trembling little boy. ‘You’re fantastic. Do you hear me? You’re a great kid. Don’t worry – your mum’s under a lot of stress and adults say lots of crazy things they wish they hadn’t said later. OK? Remember what I’m telling you. It’s not you.’

 *

No, I didn’t. You know I didn’t. The moment hung there, the chance to change the narrative. I assessed the energy and grief and courage it would require, to thresh and flounder against that debilitating undertow and stand up and do it.

I looked over at my husband, lost in his own immobilising grief.

I’ll tell you, although I don’t need to now, that the relationship crashed and burned a few short months later. It’s enough that you know that I’m left with this – myself sitting, doing nothing, and that boy would be eighteen now and I think of him all the time. I can tinker with the script all I like but this is the story I’m left with. Had I risen, I would have been the catalyst. I would have been someone else’s turning point.

Had I risen, I wonder if I would even have had to write this now.

 

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Introducing Lost In Track Changes

LTCif:book’s latest literary project kicks off next week right here on this very site. This project takes the personal and intimate craft of memoir and turns it over to the cut-and-paste transformation of remix culture combined with a hint of old-fashioned parlour games.

Five writers have written a short piece of memoir, a vignette. Each work is passed onto another author within the group, tasked with transforming the piece into something else. In the background, if:book tracks the changes. The newly minted remix is passed along again and so on until each of the pieces have passed through all five authors.

It’s called Lost In Track Changes.

Introducing the five authors who have stepped up to the challenge:

Krissy Kneen is the author of the memoir Affection, the erotic fiction Triptych and the novel Steeplechase. Her erotic novel Holly’s Incredible Adventures in the Sex Machine will be out in November (Text).
Fiona Capp is the internationally published author of seven books: three works of non-fiction including That Oceanic Feeling, which won the 2004 Kibble Award and My Blood’s Country, a journey through the landscape that inspired the poetry of Judith Wright, and four novels – Night Surfing, Last of the Sane Days, Musk & Byrne and Gotland.
Robert Hoge has worked as a journalist, a speechwriter, a science communicator for the CSIRO and a political advisor to the former Queensland Premier and Deputy Premier. He has had numerous short stories, articles, interviews and other works published in Australia and overseas. His memoir, Ugly, is about growing up ugly and disabled. It’s also about bad haircuts and reading and awful teen love poems and underarm bowling as a metaphor for… well, you’ll just have to read the book.
Cate Kennedy writes short stories, poetry, non-fiction and is currently working on her second novel. Her work has been published internationally and she is the recipient of the 2010 NSW Premier’s Literary Prize People’s Choice award for her novel The World Beneath, the 2012 Queensland Literary Award for her short story collection Like a House on Fire and the 2011 Victorian Premier’s Award for her poetry collection The Taste of River Water. Her non-fiction work includes Sing and Don’t Cry; a Mexican journal about her time living and working in a credit cooperative in Mexico. She edited the 2010 and 2011 Best Australian Stories anthologies and more recently New Australian Love Stories (due for publication Sept 2014).
Ryan O’Neill’s fiction has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards. His book, The Weight of a Human Heart has been shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Prize – Steele Rudd Award. He teaches at the University of Newcastle.

Each piece and its remixes will be published in weekly instalments at if:book over the next five months. We are also working on print and ebook editions of the complete project and an event at the project’s conclusion in November.

The ebook edition will feature design work from Megan Hoogenboom.

Megan Hoogenboom is an independent graphic designer, living in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Using a self-invented design system and a fuelled by fascination with the transformation from the analogue to the digital, Megan creates and philosophises on the form of the digital book: the .ePub.
6

Quality Gasbagging

ifbook podcastJune’s if:book Podcast features Donna Hancox, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the Queensland University of Technology. Emily and Simon discuss with Donna community storytelling and interactive narratives told across media.

Links to the projects discussed:

Cool Stuff We Found On The Internet:

Featured artist this week is Enrico Caruso. You might know him as tenor-singing superstar the Great Caruso (as distinguished from other Greats such as Alexander or Catherine). Caruso sings La Donna e Mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto. You may recognise the music from advertising that attempts to associate its product with Italy in some form.

Originally recorded for the Victor label in 1904, this song comes to us from the Internet Archive.

 

 

Play

Podcast Feed // iTunes

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Becoming N00b

the noobzThe collected essays from if:book’s project The N00bz is now available and ready as a single downloadable volume for your reading pleasure. But why stop at reading?

Would you like to be one of The N00bz?

To coincide with its publication, if:book and publisher Editia are offering emerging writers the chance to be published alongside Romy Ash, Carmel Bird, James Bradley, Sean Williams, and Benjamin Law.

Submit a tweet or blog post about your own literary experiment and let us know about it via Twitter using the hashtag #TheN00bz (don’t forget the zeroes).

If you submit by midnight on 7 July, your work may be selected for inclusion in the print edition (and second digital edition) of The N00bz to be launched in August.

Editia has more information and some handy suggestions for experiments you can try at home. 

You can also read our official announcement of the competition over at Books + Publishing.  

About the book

Change your tools for storytelling, change your routine, learn a new form, engage with parts of the wider industry you have never had to previously. See what happens and report back. This was the challenge taken up by contributors to The N00bz: New adventures in literature, a joint project between if:book Australia and digital first publisher Editia.

The book is a collection of writing about writing that documents pure curiosity and the quest to continually improve amidst rapid and constant industrial change. The results are by turns insightful and amusing if, just occasionally, a bit harrowing.

Sean Williams deprived himself of sleep and observed its effect on his creativity. Sophie Masson established her own independent press. Emily Stewart gave away her library. Greg Field closed his bookshop and joined Wattpad. Romy Ash tackled Twitter storytelling. James Bradley tried his hand at creating a graphic novel. Carmel Bird digitized a title from her backlist. Benjamin Law braved the squiggly world of shorthand. And Jeff Sparrow wrote something that’s definitely not a book.

Setting up your own press, leaving your previous career behind, and giving away your books are not experiences that can be undone as easily as Command-z. But the intention of The N00bz was to encourage writers to step outside their typical routines and find new perspectives … perspectives that stay with you long after you finish reading these essays, even if you don’t end up encoding your own ebooks.

So get your n00b on and in the meantime pick up a virtual copy of The N00bz from the following digital emporiums:

 

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Willow Patterns: The Complete 24-Hour Book

willow patternsTwo years ago today, one of if:book’s most ambitious projects to date took a book from concept to print within a single twenty-four hour period. The race around the clock produced a collection of interdependent stories about a library, a flood, missing children, and a vase. It was called Willow Pattern.

Because the book had been written online using the platform Pressbooks, we were able to collect every change made to the stories in progress. Every save, whether made consciously by the writer or surreptitiously by the system, was captured and stored in a database.

Last year, we cracked open that database and made it free to browse, search and download the data. We explored the numbers behind the book’s creation, drawing stories from graphs and making connections between the book’s content and it evolution. We then invited a group of poets and students to conceive and create ‘remixes’: artistic responses that relied less on the book as a finished product and more on it as a process, a series of alphanumeric strings to be pulled apart and reordered.

Through it all though was a desire to represent the project beyond a 150-page paperback or a searchable collection of fragments. We wanted to capture the epic scale of the project and provide a sense of the undertaking in something tactile, something visceral.

We wanted to produce the database in print.

And so, today, we present Willow Patterns: The Complete 24-Hour Book. This collection reproduces every version of every story from the 24-Hour Book project and lays them out in ink and paper and in chronological order.

Continue Reading →

2

A Layer of Frission

Recently, I had the extraordinary privilege of helping to deliver Memory Makes Us, an experimental live writing event at Wordstorm festival in Darwin, the regional capital of Australia’s remote Top End. Three authors wrote live to the web, fuelled by contributions from the public submitted via typewriter or post-it note at Wordstorm, or via Twitter or the website memorymakesus.org.au.

It’s a project conceived for if:book Australia by literary technologist extraordinaire, Simon Groth, in collaboration with the brilliant author, Kate Pullinger. As CEO of QWC, I support and manage if:book, an R&D digital publishing unit founded by the visionary Kate Eltham. Yeah, I freaking love my day job.

But I’m also a writer, and I was deeply impressed by the courage and agility of the three authors writing and publishing live to the web, crafting narrative from crowdsourced memories, serene and focused in the sweltering humidity of Darwin. Maria Munkara, Levin Diatschenko, and Kamarra Bell-Wykes were champions, and the original works they produced are each unique and powerful. Read them here.

The contemporary evolution of the relationship between readers and writers shifts from from symbiosis to synthesis, a change that both anchors and heightens narrative interest. Contributing my own memories to the project added a striking layer of frisson.

Suddenly, I had skin in the game.

Tiles in the Mosaic

Levin created a sophisticated, magical realist, episodic narrative – a cosy, feisty conversation the likes of which you could envision in the back room of a pub in Lord of the Rings. Levin used contributions to inspire his characters.

See Levin discuss the project here.

My contributed memory to Levin’s theme of Family Tree:

Dad’s moustache: A toothbrush moustache that started out glossy black, fading over the decades to silver, with ochre hints of tobacco.

This memory fuelled the final line in Levin’s piece:

With that, he shuffled out of the bar and slammed the door behind him. I do not know if his mustache went grey.

Maria wove a delicate, deep poem around her theme of Recurring Dreams. Ranging from crowdsourced experiences of both joy and nightmare, to resonances of a psyche formed in Australia’s Stolen Generation, Maria approached her piece with the optimism, grace, and intellect she brings to all her work.

See Maria discuss the project here.

My contributions to Maria’s theme both appear, seamless and intact, in her piece:

A speed boat passes me by
I am on an island
with only crabs and thirst for company
the speed boat passes by again
My parents wave
but they do not stop

A labrador pup
malnourished and swimming upstream
Is it me?

Kamarra’s experience as a playwright are evident in the striking call-and-response structure of her piece. Riffing off contributed memories and entwining her own, Kamarra’s clear authorial voice creates a compelling throughline across a kaleidoscope of scenes and characters.

See Kamarra discuss the project here.

My submitted memory to Kamarra’s theme of Smell:

Rotten mangoes fallen on my running path
makes me think of zombies and hospitals.

Kamarra fed this post-it note glimpse of memory into the wild machine of her imagination to create a detailed and touching scene between a boy, his brother and their mother.

Provenance

The rights and licensing of work for Memory Makes Us were complex to get right, but are simple in effect. The authors and contributors own their work outright and are free to publish and remix it as they wish. if:book Australia has a non-exclusive licence to publish and remix it, too.

Last night I realised, along with the flush of pride and the thrill of narrative interest, that the inclusion of my memories in these authors’ beautiful works may make it tricky should I ever wish to re-use my own words—it may look like plagiarism. So it is both as an act of honour to these authors’ incredible creativity, and by way of documenting the provenance of my own contributions, that I reproduce them here.

Come Play with Us

It’s my belief that authors have always been fuelled by the contributions of those around us. Web-enabled writing allows us to capture and investigate this creative process in ways that have great potential for audience development for literary works.

Memory Makes Us will appear in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth later this year. I warmly invite you to participate in this experiment, readers and writers both. Keep an eye on the website memorymakesus.org.au or the twitter hashtag #memorymakesus for more info.

 

Reposted and edited from the original published 31 May

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Remix Your Face

ifbook podcastIt’s not that the May episode of the if:book Podcast is delayed. It’s just that we have renamed today the 36th of May.

This month’s guest is Michela Ledwidge from the amazing Mod Productions discussing remix literature and the extraordinary ACO Virtual, an interactive installation featuring the Australian Chamber Orchestra that allows you to become the conductor you always wanted to be.

Links to the stuff we discuss in situ:

And cool stuff we found on the internet:

What is this? Suddenly if:book’s all hoity toity and we’re not wasting ten minutes discussing the music?

Well, the featured artist this month takes its cue from ACO Virtual with an artist you may have heard of—Johann Sebastian Bach—and the first Allegro movement from his Concerto No.2 in C for 2 Cembalos. It’s kind of chamber music.

This concerto, scored for two harpsichords, two violins, viola and continuo, and lasting around 19 minutes, is probably the only Harpsichord Concerto by Bach that originated as a harpsichord work. The first version was for two instruments unaccompanied (BWV. 1061a,in the manner of Italian Concerto, BWV. 971) and the addition of the orchestral parts may not have been by Bach himself. In fact, the strings only appear to augment cadences.

The recording and description comes to us via the good people at Musopen, a non-profit providing recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions.

And the reason we never quite got around to talking about it? Well, we already waited until the 36th May. How much longer did you want to wait?

 

Play

Podcast Feed // iTunes

 

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Memory Makes Us Live

MMUApplause and thank you to our amazing authors at Memory Makes Us, if:book Australia’s live writing event at Browns Mart Theatre in Darwin as part of the writers’ festival Wordstorm 2014.

Take a bow Marie Munkara, Levin Diatschenko, and Kamarra Bell-Wykes who wrote entirely new work based on memories provided by the public.

Check out the web site, follow the #memorymakesus tag on Twitter, watch interviews with the authors, and photos of the event.

 

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This is the future of the book, but not the one you were expecting.