The days of the upright book may be numbered. Goodbye Guttenburg, hello Dutch dwarsligger. The dwarsligger – dwars: crossways, liggen: a person or thing that stands out – is a little book, printed in small, landscape type, on paper as thin as onion skin. These books are the size of an iPhone and as thick as a thumb.
Mini book versions of works by John Green compared with their full-size counterparts.Credit:NYTNS
Dwarsliggers are read by flipping the pages upwards – as if scrolling through Twitter or Instagram – rather than by turning the leaves from right to left, and have been published in the Netherlands since 2009.
Dutton, an American imprint of Penguin Random House, have now renamed them "flipbacks" (making them sound slightly less Lord of the Rings), and have printed four young adult novels by the bestselling John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns) in dwarsligger style. It is hoped that these flipbacks will draw teenagers off Snapchat and inside the covers of a story.
"Young people are still learning how they like to read," Mr Green told the New York Times. "It is much closer to a cell phone experience than standard books, but it's much closer to a book than a cell phone. The whole problem with reading on a phone is that my phone also does so many other things."
Too true, that last bit. I've never got to grips with reading on my phone. It is too tempting to have just a peek at my emails, just the weeniest wink at Instagram, just a quick squizz at the news, the weather and whatever Twitter is incensed about this half-hour. The wonderful thing about a book-book rather than an iBook is its quiet certainty. There are the author's words, chosen, considered, careful, unchangeable: still points in a turning world.
Where I part from Green and the Flipbackers is in the need for a new sort of book altogether. Last week I read Sarah Moss's Ghost Wall, a sinister, unsettling novella that is still giving me shivers. It is a small book – only 152 pages, 8in by 5in – with a whole weird, wayward world within it. Palm-sized volumes have their own particular pleasure. I'm addicted to mini Penguins kept in coat pockets for reading emergencies: Aesop, Betty Friedan, John Ruskin… But what would be gained from turning them on their axes? To make reading more like pawing through Instagram?
Watching an animation of a flipback in action, I was reminded of the little books we drew at primary school where a cartoon man fell off a cliff or rose in a hot-air balloon if you flicked the pages fast enough. But reading isn't a race. Books ask you to take your time, to think. If the book ain't broke, don't flip it.
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