Vook! [Things That Drive Me Insane]

Late on Saturday night, I came across this article by Virginia Heffernan about “video books.” Generally speaking, I like the pieces by Heffernan that I’ve read, in particular this piece about headphones. But this one on Vook? Oh dear god no.

Although to be fair, I’m not sure what’s more infuriating to me—her piece or the existence of vook.com. Let me back up a bit . . . I’ll start with the opening of Heffernan’s article:

A deep fantasy of most readers is that their books will one day come to life. Of course there’s the college-reader hope that reality itself will come to shimmer with the intense meaningfulness of books. But you get over that. The wish that remains is less romantic: the longing for a byte of audio here and there, among the pages of text, so you could hear what Uriah Heep really sounds like when he says, “ ’Umble to this person, and ’umble to that” in “David Copperfield,” or a video clip so you could get a sense of Jack Ryan’s appearance in “Patriot Games.” What if you could give your imagination a break and watch a clip of Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan and be done with it?

The fantasy of giving your imagination a break, though, is an illicit one. Readers are supposed to relish hard mental labor. They’re supposed to enjoy all the work they have to do to conjure the scenes in their books — and at the same time disdain television viewers, who sit back and have it all handed to them on a vertical platter.

“The fantasy of giving your imagination a break”???? WTF is she on about? Aside from the latent sentiment that watching movies would be waaayyy more pleasurable, and not nearly so straining on your mind! And that’s what we all secretly want, no? To not have to think so hard with the reading of these words and the having to picture things in our head.

I’ve been a slavish fan of the Kindle almost since it was introduced — the way it lets you read, wholly read and do nothing but read. Not being interrupted by all the material distractions of an overdesigned book

“The material distractions of an overdesigned book”? I’m not entirely sure what she’s even referring to . . . All those page numbers? Chapter titles? The binding? Ugh. (It was at this moment on Saturday night that my head EXPLODED.)

Anyway, as it turns out, Heffernan has become a huge fan of “Vooks” or “video books,” “a software application that combines video and text” that apparently allows you to rest your imagination . . .

Just to recap: Reading is hard. It takes a lot of effort to imagine things. We all secretly want to take a break from this. Enter Vook! It allows you to not have to deal with all those pesky “material distractions of an overdesigned book” such as . . . “15-Minute Everyday Pilates”??????

Take Pilates. I like floor Pilates, but it’s traditionally a one-on-one kind of thing, and lessons are expensive. I like books about exercise, because the physiology in them is interesting and motivating, but I can’t infer Pilates exercises from still photos. The written instructions are entirely useless. Commands like “engage your core” and “feel the full support of the floor” must be meant to arouse and excite the exercise state of mind as much as to convey information. [. . .]

Vook offers a Pilates video book, Alycea Ungaro’s “15-Minute Everyday Pilates,” that has changed the way I exercise, and I’m now as devoted to Vooks for video reading as I am to the Kindle for reading reading.

OK, on some level, when it comes to “books” like “Yoga in Bed,” I can sort of get the usefulness of this. Maybe. I still think Heffernan’s piece is sloppy for conflating literature (David Copperfield) with books (15-Minute Everyday Pilates), and the “overdesigned” thing still irks me . . .

To change targets, the Vook website makes me very very sad. Yeah, videos of Pilates positions, yoga!, yada yada yada. But please explain Shakespeare Made Easy to me.

Shakespeare Made Easy is a fantastic compilation of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays shortened into easy to read stories. Included in this compilation is a brief summary of Shakespeare’s life and the following plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Cymbeline, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, The Winter’s Tale, King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Each play is retold in a shortened form to help you easily understand these timeless classic plays.

Fine, fine, fine. Some Shakespeare is better than no Shakespeare . . . Maybe. I can’t figure out how to embed it here, but you HAVE to click on the trailer for this Vook. Holy crap is it stupid!

Over semi-obnoxious folk music, we get images, bits of info about this “Shakes-peare,” including such gems as “Possibly The Most Famous Playwright in History.” (Capitalization theirs.)

Seriously, this just makes me sad. In part because I wish culture valued reading and thinking and learning and all that nerdy book culture stuff. In part because these Vooks feel like an idea hatched in a business school by people who hate reading. In part because, due to the popularity of apps and iEverything, this company will probably be successful. They’ll probably sell more apps in a month than we do Open Letter Books in a year . . .

Maybe we should just quit with this imagination-straining “literature” and turn all our titles into video books. Just imagine, Zone could feature images of Italy from a train, with text running across the bottom like: “He Fought In Wars,” “He Collected Information,” “He Slept With Women,” “He Reads Books,” “He Is Going Through Italy,” “Italy Is In Europe,” “Italy Is Home To The Vatican Which Oversees One Of The Most Influential Religions In History.”

At least you’d finally be able to give your imagination a break . . .

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