Visual Editions: an ebook with enforced attention

Here’s a neat one from the Guardian: “The ebook that forces the reader to pay attention” —

“Visual Editions’ iPad version of Marc Saporta’s 1960s novel,Composition No 1. Visual Editions is a London-based publisher specialising in beautiful books: it published Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, cutting wedges through a paper book to reveal new stories, and a magically, playfully typeset volume of Tristram Shandy.

Composition No 1 is made up of 150 unbound pages, which may be read in any order. Each page consists of a single short text; it’s up to the reader to draw a continuous story from them. So far, so experimental. But the electronic edition shuffles these pages for you, speeding them past so fast that they become indistinguishable. Only by touching and holding the screen is the page revealed. Once released, the page whips away again and cannot be revisited until the whole book is completed. In this way, the design enforces — indeed, embodies — physical and mental attention. A fitting metaphor for the book in an age of distractions.”

Pretty avant-garde stuff. One might argue that such an approach is trading one kind of distraction for another, but, well, I do love experimental reading forms.

Their concept of Visual Writing is rather intriguing —

“We publish books that use visual writing. There is a rich literary heritage for this kind of writing and this very much forms the basis for what we’re setting out to do.

The way we think about visual writing is this: writing that uses visual elements as an integral part of the writing itself. Visual elements can come in all shapes and guises: they could be crossed out words, or photographs, or die-cuts, or blank pages, or better yet something we haven’t seen. The main thing is that the visuals aren’t gimmicky, decorative or extraneous, they are key to the story they are telling. And without them, that story would be something altogether different.”

Check out Composition №1 on the Visual Editions website (the second video shows off the iPad version). And here’s the iTunes link for the iPad edition.

The Visual Edition Tristram Shandy looks awesome, by the way.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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