You might be an e-book agnostic, but please hear us out: there is finally a book that uses the e-reader to its fullest. The Silent History is a new book for iPhone and iPad that justifies itself to the format of e-readers. Offered as an app, it’s a serialized novel that happens to be both interactive, participatory, and also really damn fun.
The book is set up as a collection of “Testimonials,” which are anecdotes written chronologically by a wide cast of characters. Installments will be released once a day for six months (the book just started last week, so don’t worry about getting behind). You can buy a chapter for $1.99, or the whole thing for $7.99.
Alongside the Testimonials are Field Reports, which can be accessed at specific locations across the world. If you live in Iowa, it’s no big deal—Field Reports don’t change the story, and you can also submit your own Field Reporting that the editors will review for publishing. There are Field Reports everywhere from Kyrgyzstan to Crosby Street:
Of course, none of the technical innovations would be worth a damn if the story weren’t compelling. The hooky premise is that children are being born incapable of language—they shrink from any sort of communication whatsoever, and are entirely nonverbal. While the story only has six Testimonials so far, it is shaping up to play on the fears of parenthood and modernity, with a touch of sci-fi. It’s way too early to call the story a success, but the premise is intriguing—and the cliffhangers don’t hurt. The free introduction is also a nifty way to hook readers into their purchases, and the serialized format keeps the app vital day by day.
The book was created by former McSweeney’s publisher Eli Horowitz, and co-authored by Kevin Moffett and Matthew Derby. Horowitz described the book to the LA Times as attempting to rescue e-books from irrelevance. “E-books were unmistakably a lesser form,” he says. “There was not a spirit of excitement about them, among writers or readers.”
If you haven’t noticed, e-books are pretty popular lately. But some readers remain opposed. Much of the Pro-Paper contingent criticizes e-books for being extraneous and distracting. And this is true, actually. Most e-books are written like traditional novels, ignoring the functionalities and formats of e-readers that could be used to tell a story. It would be like if the New York Times just used a PDF scan of the paper for a website. (Though some publications really do that.)
The Silent History uses the GPS functionality of an iPhone, along with its capacity for multimedia, sync, and serialization. Those aren’t just gimmicks—they are integral to the mechanics of the story. That’s what will make e-books successful in the longterm. In fact, Pro-Paper readers should welcome The Silent History, since it finally differentiates the format and gets e-readers out of the shadow of “regular books.” And even if they shrink from the technology of it, they should at least acknowledge the experimental form that the novel takes here. From a purely literary perspective, The Silent History gets to try new ways of telling a story. Because suddenly it can.