Book Trailers: Ads, Lure, and Paradox

Watched any good book trailers lately?  No, not movies, books. Book trailers… they’ve been around since 2003. You might be aware that more and more publishers and authors are embracing this marketing tool in recent years.

If you type in the term ‘book trailers’ on YouTube, you can find many of them cater to the mash and morph generation. Quirk Books, publisher of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, has produced some popular trailers of their modern takes on classic works. Amazon named their  “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” book trailer as the best book trailer of 2009.

Now, I don’t want to digress and start talking about the morphing of the classics with contemporary culture, or things like getting the news from The Colbert Report, I’ll leave those to another post. But since book trailers have piqued my interest lately, let me show you their more recent release: The Meowmorphosis, a contemporary twist on Kafka’s classic. Here’s the book trailer (If you can’t view the videos on this post, click on the link to watch them on YouTube. And, do come back):

But of course, book trailers are for all. When you spread your net, you want to catch as wide a multitude as possible, don’t you? Look at this one promoting an upcoming book by the popular crime fiction writer Michael Connelly:

You probably think you’re watching a movie trailer. And that’s what I speculate, book trailers just might well be prompts for potential movie adaptations. Film option, anyone? And for Connelly, he already has two of his books turned into popular movies: ‘Blood Work’ (2002, Clint Eastwood), and ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ (2011, Matthew McConaughey)

But really, book trailers are an attractive bunch, most of them. They appeal to the digitally savvy and visually driven. While some readers may not appreciate the visualization of the literary, leaving little room for imagination, others welcome these dramatizations and animations. Their stunning effects can be just mesmerizing. Look at this trailer with over 1 million views, Going West by New Zealand novelist Maurice Gee:

What a marvel of video production, don’t you agree? Now, here’s a more important question: Will you go and buy this book to read after watching the trailer, or, are you more likely to just add another view count to the video and a click on ‘like’?

This last trailer just about sums up the apparent paradox: It takes the visual to sell the word. I’d held Lane Smith’s appealing hardcover children’s book It’s A Book in my hands in a bookstore, marvelled at its conception. Look at this adorable trailer:

In this eWorld of ours, we need a real hardcover book to explain to children what a book is… or used to be, if you take the apocalyptic view.  We’re told a book isn’t something you scroll, tweet, or text, and no need to charge up. But the fact is, those are the very functions you do to view and share the trailer.

And it’s a book trailer, with all its visual images and special effects, uploaded and viewed online and hopefully gone viral, that helps boost book sales. Another mash? Or simply an inevitable paradox nowadays?

And, speaking of paradox, can you imagine the eBook version of It’s A Book?


eReaders, iPad, and Home Literacy

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then, is an empty desk?” — Albert Einstein


eReaders and the iPad could well be the best house-cleaning appliances ever invented. All the clutter on your bookshelves, magazines and newspapers strewn everywhere, and even those ubiquitous household bills can all be swept under the eCarpet. Yes, even flyers, ads, and coupons, they are now online or in apps… and maps? Just bring your iPhone.

But wait, what’s with this study done by Dr. Mariah Evans, sociologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and MobilityAccording to its abstract, the study found that:

Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class.

Together with her colleagues at the University of Nevada, UCLA and Australian National University, Evans studied 70,000 children in 27 countries over a span of 20 years, one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever conducted on what influences the level of education a child will attain. The difference between a bookless home and a home with 500 books amounts to an average of 3.2 years of further education. In China, the difference is 6.6 years.

As a sociologist, Dr. Evans is concerned with helping children of rural communities in Nevada to achieve higher education. Regardless of parents’ socio-economic and educational levels, the number of books at home is the single most significant correlate of educational attainment.

I know what’s on your mind… how many families have more than 500 books in their home. Well the idea is, the more the better:

Even a little bit goes a long way,” in terms of the number of books in a home. Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.

You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’,” she said. “It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.

In an interview which is available on MP3, Evans explains:

When you have very highly educated parents, you still get some result of additional books in the home. But you get much more of what you might call ‘bang for your book’ for parents who have little education.

So now, back to our house-cleaning issue. How would home literacy be affected if more and more books are being swept away and stored in electronic devices and less and less on our shelves and strewn on the floor? Can the neat and tidy Kindle or iPad have the same effects as a real home library or ‘literacy mess’ for a child? Can 500 books in the eReader influence a child as much as 500 books around the home? Just some thoughts for future research.



You might ask what good do mere numbers do if you don’t use them. You can’t assume usage with presence, right? Well the question is, how can you use them if they are not around?  Evans claimed that just having them there, and watching a parent read a book is significant enough. If you’re caught reading a book, you are reading a book. But if you’re caught using an iPad, you may not be reading, you could be shopping, checking your stocks, or playing video games.

As for usage, electronic gadgets tend to promote individualized activities. The traditional ways of using books just might not be as compatible with these devices, like the cuddly moments of mother and child sharing a book at bedtime (see those teeth marks on the board books), the intimacy between book and reader, the appreciation and touch, the joy their aesthetics could bring, the picking up of a pen or pencil and marking and doodling around the pages, the practice of real life literacy activities with them, both personal and communal. And oh, the pleasure of browsing in a bookstore and the excitement of looting in a book sale.

Further, home literacy is more than just books. I was involved in an ethnographic study on language learning several years ago. I spent hours in several homes of young children, observing their literacy environment. My observations included materials that could foster language development. I noted, other than books, alphabet magnets on the fridge, newspapers, magazines, calendars, recipes, personal notes, notice boards, TV guides, shopping lists, food packaging, flyers, coupons, and ‘junk mails’, any print materials exposing a child to words and writing. One parent I observed had purposely placed newspapers in the bathroom, making the printed word more accessible to her child.  The rationale behind the study was that preschool children growing up in a home milieu rich in print materials are primed for language and literacy learning long before they even begin formal schooling.

With the arrivals of eBooks and eEverything else, printed matters are on the decline. Sure, it’s not all or nothing. Printed books will still be around.  But with eBook sales now surpassing hard copies at Amazon, the trend is obvious. eReaders and iPads are definitely ingenious and convenient devices, but how would home literacy change with these gadgets? And, how would we change as a human reader? It’s not about holding on to the archaic or being a Luddite, it’s all about our future, our very human future.

Of course, I’d appreciate a clean house. But hey, please don’t touch that pile. I know exactly where to find what under which. Thanks.


*And, to satisfy your curiosity, how many families Evans found to have 500 or more books in their homes? In the U.S., 18%.

“Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations” by M. D. R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikora, and Donald J. Trelman. Published in Research In Social Stratification and Mobility, Volume 28, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 171 – 197. Click Here to go to the article.

The Great Gatsby on my iPhone

Two years ago I posted about reading Pride and Prejudice on my BlackBerry.  At that time, I was receiving free installments of the book, sent to me daily via email from DailyLit.

Well, I’ve moved on since then.  I’m using an iPhone now, and with the application Stanza, I get access to several online catalogues with over 100,000 selections of classics and contemporary titles and periodicals.  I must add though while the Stanza app is free, some of the eBooks in these catalogues, especially the contemporary ones, are not.

But I’m just interested in the free ones, and there are more than enough to choose from… mainly through Project Gutenberg’s catalogue of 30,000 eBooks in the public domain, classics of over 20 languages.  Not that I’ll be reading one in Icelandic, or Portuguese, or even Esperanto, but it’s good to know that they are there in case you might need them.  All the titles are free to download due to the expiry of their copyrights.  I’ll just stick with the 22,000 English selections for now, from Austen to Zola, from anarchism to zoology… yes, they allow you to search by authors, titles, languages, genres, topics.

Regarding the concept of ‘free’, the Project Gutenberg Website has this important information: ‘Free’ here means both free of charge and freedom to use the titles in whatever way a reader chooses, teaching, adapting, distributing…

So, what has been my experience of reading The Great Gatsby on my iPhone?

First off,  unlike the Kindle, which is the size of a paperback, or larger, the iPhone screen is just 3.5 inch diagonal.  While you can adjust the font size to suit your visual comfort, it just means the inconvenience of turning the pages more often the larger the font.  Reading it horizontally, my setting is about 10 words per line, 14 lines on each page.  I can choose my own style of font and the backlit format.

Compare with reading a hard copy, the iPhone has its convenience, that being smaller, easier to carry. You have your whole library at your fingertip, literally.  But the major advantage over a hard copy, I feel, is the lighted screen.  In other words, you don’t need to turn your bedside table light on to read. In a way, it brings back that childhood experience of reading under a covered blanket with a flashlight.  Ready accessibility, even in the dark.  What a fantastic treat for insomniacs.

Now to something totally different, the affective element of the reading experience.  Strangely enough, reading on the iPhone makes Roland Barthes’ theory a step closer to reality.  Just a recap, I’ve written a post on Barthe’s ‘The Death of the Author’ idea.  The text is the thing, he argues. Let it speak without any reference to its author.  Reading digitally transported me onto that path, whether intentionally or not.

When you’re reading a book, you’re holding the physical object called a ‘book’, with all its cultural meaning and significance, the reality of print on paper, the design and aesthetics of the object itself.  More importantly, from the outset, before you dig in, you’re looking at its cover art, jacket info on the author and the work, with the sometimes additional excerpts of reviews, author bio, introduction to the work… etc. In other words, you cannot avoid knowing who wrote those words you’re reading, his or her background, literary achievement and perspective.

But reading digitally, you’re only seeing the text, unless of course you change the screen to check info about the author or the work.  If you just stay with that screen, you’re only seeing the words per se, unmoved by any of the author’s background, literary style, devoid of any context. And because of the small screen, you’re only reading a few lines at a time. Instead of a complete whole that you can hold in your hands, you are confronted with the fragments, the digitalized, desensitized, deconstructed units of a literary work.

I have read The Great Gatsby before, in hard copy format, and now in the digital mode.  Reading it on the iPhone, I sense that my imagination is more reined in.  I encounter more ‘text’ than ‘images’, and feeling less for the characters.  Interestingly, some details of the plot are clearer this time, but the emotional impact is attenuated.  Of course, one could argue it’s because this is the second time around I read the story… but then again, it has been some years between the two readings.

There’s no perfect solution for everything.  You have the convenience, but the desensitizing of the reading experience.  Nevertheless, the free downloads of world classics at your fingertip is just too good to pass.

My next read from my iPhone library?  Well, there are quite a few choices.  I’m thinking of Proust’s Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time Vol. 1. Reading Proust on the iPhone… how much more postmodern can you get? Roland Barthes would have been pleased.

But it might be too daunting a task to attempt, imagine reading 400 plus pages on a 3.5 inch screen, 14 lines at a time.

And for now… let me just head out to the bookstore.  Nothing can compare to the sensation of being surrounded by books, and actually feeling them in your hands, cover, spine, and all.


Photo Source:  The Great Gatsby book cover at

Pride and Prejudice on my BlackBerry

For a more updated post on eReading, CLICK HERE to go to “The Great Gatsby On My iPhone”.


pride and prejudice book cover

How do you keep in touch with the Classics in this techno-postmodern age?  Just like you can listen to Bach’s Goldberg Variations on your iPod, you can also read up on the Bennet vs. Darcy saga on your BlackBerry.  That’s what I’ve been doing this past month.  Everyday, I receive through my email in serial, one of the total 149 parts of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice sent to me by Daily Lit, an on-line elibrary… So, wherever I may be, whenever I can grab a moment, I’m accessible to news from Longbourn and Pemberley just by pressing a couple of buttons on my cellphone…oh the conveniences of modern technology, making time-travel easy.

But of course, if you’re reading the book the first couple of times, I don’t recommend you do it this way.  Nothing can replace holding a real book in your hands, lying in the couch or in bed, turning the actual pages of an Austen classic as you savor every word Elizabeth has to say in response to Darcy’s marriage proposal.  But if it’s your fourth or fifth reading, there’s no harm getting it electronically just to touch base.  It’s pure convenience…no books to carry with me; actually, I’ve more than one book sent to me this way.  Daily Lit carries most of the well known classics, including works by Austen, Balzac, Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Eliot, Flaubert,…oh, you name it.

Exciting?  Just imagine reading a section of Moby Dick while waiting for your favorite sushi in a restaurant.  Or, catching up on War and Peace during half-time between the Oilers and the Flames (I’m writing from Alberta after all).  Or how about Taming of the Shrew while anticipating the bride to walk down the aisle in a wedding?  Wouldn’t it be a great use of your idling time in the frenzy of urban living?

…Oh yes, the other book I’m reading on my BlackBerry?  … The First Book of the Bible, Genesis.


CLICK HERE to go to my three-part review of Pride and Prejudice (1995, BBC Production).