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Best book apps: Part 3

To my regular readers, please accept (another) apology about the lag time between posts here. I’ve been helping my wife in her new business venture, working on several writing projects and generally neglecting this blog, sorry.

To honour an earlier promise, I need to point you all to some of my favourite book and reading apps for readers of a YA and up vintage. Previous posts have highlighted fantastic apps for junior fiction and middle fiction readers. Today we’re looking at apps intended for those of us slightly longer in the tooth.

Just in case you’re arriving at this post cold via a Google search, I should probably highlight the difference between interactive book apps and reading apps such as Kindle and iBooks. These latter apps let you purchase books via Amazon and the Apple e-book stores respectively and store a large number of titles, PDF documents and other reading materials. They’re like personal libraries that travel with you in the electronic cloud hovering above us all. One of the advantages of apps like iBooks and Kindle is that you can easily transfer books between devices such as, say, a phone and iPad or a Kindle e-reader and iPad.

Most of the titles you buy and download are simply tap-to-turn-the-page e-books. However, there are items within the iBookstore that have a limited degree of interactivity; there’s more noise and movement than a printed book. For instance, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine picture book contains embedded animation clips and interactive elements within some illustrations. Non-fiction books such as Cadel Evans: The Long Road to Paris, are enhanced with video clips of interviews and other footage.

You can buy an edition of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones that contains occasional clips from an audio book of the series and links to (very) brief biographical information on the vast cast of characters. Personally, I think series like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings will be where the iPad could really strut its stuff. Imagine if you at any point during reading you could activate a map of Middle Earth or Westeros showing the whereabouts of all the key characters, movement of armies and so on. Imagine how well this could work for non-fiction military history books and the like. Bring it on, developers and publishers.

The iBook app lets you download samples of books in its store, just as you can do with Amazon. You can also find free user guides to most Apple products.

I also regularly use an app called Comixology that has become a personal library of comics and graphic novels. This is a personal favourite because it lets me enlarge panels within comics and study the artwork much more closely than a print publication. You can read or view each work as laid out on the pages in print form or panel-by-panel (by double-tapping once), which has the effect of almost creating your own animation. I’ve downloaded classics like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men series and seen them in a whole new light. I’m now working through the Doonesbury back catalogue.

In contrast to these ‘library’ apps, interactive book apps focus on one title only and offer a higher level of interaction between reader, story and device. The illustrations are likely to be lush and contain extras such as sound effects and movement. There may be ‘extras’ that detail the history of the book or the life of the author. A good example is Frankenstein, by Dave Morris, which is adapted from Mary Shelley’s work and enhanced with old anatomical drawings that add to the mood of the novel. (I’m aware of a Diary of Anne Frank app that is attracting great reviews but haven’t checked it out myself yet.)

Other apps worth a look include:

AppStart – This is a brief guide to essential apps, by AppAdvice.com. If you’re new to the iPad, this is for you.

Instapaper – This app lets you store online articles and webpages for reading later. It’s great for research purposes, particularly if you’re surfing newspaper sites that update regularly and offer unreliable search tools. Some web browsers now offer this ‘read later’ functionality, so Instapaper may be on the way out.

Flipboard – This app takes your life and makes it a magazine. You can peruse your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feeds, or a vast array of curated speciality interests, as if they’re in a magazine published just for you. It looks great but can be slow to download so avoid this if you’re away from wi-fi. Another app, Zite, offers similar functionality, skewed toward filtering websites and topics you’re interested in, sans the white noise of social media.

I’ve also used the Overdrive app to download e-books from public libraries. I hesitate to recommend this though, as it’s not user friendly when getting registered, up and running.

I should probably offer a warning. If you overdo the comics and e-books you might find your device quickly runs out of space. I speak from experience and now prune regularly.

One last thing – if you have any favourite interactive book apps, I’d love to hear about them. Oh, and my second novel, Five Parts Dead, is available via Kindle, iBooks and other e-book stores.

In time, out of time and time out

Thanks to the filtering powers of Twitter, I enjoyed this post-Sydney Writers’ Festival piece from YA author Claire Zorn, as published in Overland recently.

I’d have responded to it earlier but … hey, not enough hours in the day and all that. I mean, as a parent, husband, author, freelancer, blogger, Twitterer, school councillor, cyclist, reader, writing workshopper… sigh. As someone wearing many hats, there’s a constant babble of demands, some more discretionary than others.

Ms Zorn reports on a SWF session entitled ‘Can Literature Survive the Digital Age?’, during which author Cate Kennedy re-spun the question as ‘Can writers survive the digital age despite all the tweeting distractions?’

It’s a valid question. I started blogging to promote my first book, then tweeting (initially) to plug my blog. Now Twitter helps me streamline my web-surfing. Rather than checking a long list of blogs and news sites, I can visit the big tree, see who is tweeting what, enter into the banter or move on. It’s a great way to ‘meet’ and interact with other authors, readers, reviewers and more.

So it can be a time-saver. But it can be a time-waster and, as it throbs with fresh tweets, a procrastinator’s worst enemy.

Ms Kennedy fleshes out her argument in Overland, suggesting that the constant distractions of social media such as Twitter and Facebook are an author’s enemy. She says the ideal mental state for writing involves welcoming emptiness and solitude and mastering your own restless boredom.

She’s right. It’s a constant battle for me. While it’s reassuring to know that other authors are struggling with edits, plot twists and finances (via Twitter, status updates and more,) my writing works best in silence.

I finished Game as Ned in a room above a friend’s garage without Internet, email or any distractions (apart from a table laden with Thomas the Tank Engine toys). Much of Five Parts Dead was written in another friend’s spare room, also disconnected from the wireless world.

I work better when I’ve had time to distance myself from the babble, savour the silence and let ideas grow. This is why I’m envious of the musician Bon Iver, who apparently went into the wilderness to heal himself and returned with an album that has won a cult following.

It’s also why my novels both germinated in periods of stillness and/or solitude – a summer landscaping at a Mt Macedon garden and a holiday at a remote lighthouse. Time slows down. The senses numbed by daily life are revitalised.

As I turn my mind back to Book 3, I’ll be seeking that silence once again.

Incidentally, Ms Zorn mentions catching a SWF session with author/cartoonist Josh Neufeld. Wish I’d got to that one. Mr Neufeld’s non-fiction comic A.D: New Orleans After the Deluge is a powerful, multimedia experience online. It hooked me, big-time and shows what a force cartooning can be.