These days, media comes at us quickly and in such large quantities that we rarely are aware of how many articles, or lists, or videos we’ve consumed in a day. The Internet is changing culture everywhere, including how we watch television, gather news, and now, how we read books. A few years ago it was Kindle and the e-book that were taking the writing world by storm. But now we’re looking at an even more digital reading experience: the multi-media novel.
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Find Me I’m Yours, (Rosetta Books, 2014) by author, artist and digital innivator Hillary Carlip is one of the first of these new types of e-books. Called “A Click Lit Novel,” it blends words with videos, images, and links that you can watch while reading. It also has an interactive element—readers can take polls to weigh in on character’s actions, and upload pictures or opinions to websites featured in the novel. There will never be a tangible copy of this book (where would all the videos go?), but it hardly matters—Find Me I’m Yours is setting out to connect with readers in a new, digital, too-cool-for-school kind of way.
The book tells the story of Mags Marclay, a quirky artist in L.A. who works for an off-beat bridal website and likes to cut up two different cardigans and sew them together. One day she buys a camera from Craigslist and finds a video saved on it. A hunky guy is asking her to be his soulmate—as long as she can find him in time. Cue an adorable scavenger hunt while Mags searches for her true love. Check out the trailer to learn more:
The work behind the book is impressive: 33 original websites, tons of photos, and YouTube videos sprinkle the pages. This is not your mother’s romance novel, with a heaving bosomed ingénue in the arms of Fabio. This is a hipster romance for the next generation, with tattooed love interests and heroines in mismatched sweaters. And the multi-media platform only adds to the excitement—it’s impossible not to get caught up in Mags’s story as she rushes through the streets of LA.
There’s a lot to be gained from this new kind of novel, but I won’t pretend that something isn’t lost as well. While reading, we don’t often realize how much time we spend imagining the world of a book—picturing the characters in our heads, placing them in a scene, inventing pieces of their lives that the author may have left out.
Though undeniably entertaining, a multi-media book takes away this sense of imagination, of wonder. To compensate, Find Me I’m Yours is very careful about what it will or won’t reveal to the audience. Websites and artsy, Instagram-style photographs try to convince you this world is real, though we never see images of the central characters. Their pets and clothing are fair-game, but even when you think you might know what someone looks like, the book throws a curve ball at you. Faces, it seems, are a little too far over the line.
Am I grateful for this omission? Partially. I’m still able to try and picture what Mags looks like in my head, which enables me to live a little more in the story. But when so much of the character’s lives are revealed, it seems odd and deliberate to leave out such key images. Which leaves me, as a reader, experiencing a weird contradiction—I either want movie-style access to all parts of the story, or I want nothing.
Regardless, there is something fun about watching, clicking, and experiencing a novel in an entirely new way. And if I was going to be swayed by a story, Find Me I’m Yours, with it’s glorification of alternative, hipster lifestyles, would be it. It’s a smart story for its new genre, aimed at the exact audience it’s hoping to capture.
The question isn’t whether Find Me I’m Yours is a cute, fun novel (spoiler alert: it is!), but rather: is this new genre one worth reading? For now, I’ll say the answer is complicated. Perhaps it’s as easy as recognizing that this is not the same as opening a book and getting lost in a story. Perhaps imagination has less of a place in a world where media is so prolific. Or perhaps this is a new genre that needs a little more time to evolve, to let its audience adjust to the strange reality of clicking on a page in a book and watching a video fill the screen.