I don’t hate games. In fact, I can become as obsessed with a game as anybody else. It’s true, however, that I don’t care for most popular iPad games because 1) combat bores me and 2) I don’t like cartoon characters. I can offer no defense for myself on the second count: Animation, apart from Miyaazki and some Pixar, mostly just leaves me cold.
For this reason, my eyes glaze over at the sight of countless app icons featuring the big-eyed, wacky/goofy cartoon heroes of the average casual iPad game. I don’t want to defend towers, help Squidgy the Squirrel get his nuts back, or plant crops. (The “time management” game genre baffles me more than any other — how did mimicking the least enjoyable aspect of modern life become a form of play?)
But here at The Chimerist, we love us some Vectorpark. Maud has already praised Levers and the delightfully bizarre Feed the Head. Now it’s my turn to celebrate Windosill, my favorite of the bunch.
Windosill involves rolling a toy truck through a series of tableaux. In each scene, you have to figure out how to obtain a small cube (I think of them as sugar cubes) that will enable you to get to the next scene. This involves interacting with peculiar objects and beings: windmills made of feet, giant eyeballs, a sort of jack-in-the-box snake thing, colored dots that swarm like bees, and a little man in a space ship, among others. Clouds can be peeled back to obtain water, or shattered like glass. Disembodied tongues and beaks poke out of cubbyholes. Everything is bathed in a cool, blue glow like the light cast by a television set in a dark room.
Windowill is simple, I suppose, but it feels like its own little snow-globe world, consistent and self-contained. Yet it’s full of clever surprises. In its own small way, it’s just about perfect.
Color, I recently realized, is a big reason why I love my iPad. I spend most of my day looking at black characters on (more or less) white pages. If I have the time to get out to a museum, I’ll sometimes stand in front of paintings, gorging on their colors, until I feel almost woozy. But I don’t often have the time for that. My iPad can give me a chromatic hit to tide me over.
Color Uncovered is a free app produced by the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco. Each page explains how a certain aspect of color works, often using optical tricks, like asking you to stare at a color negative image for 30 seconds, then switching it with a black and white version of the same image, causing it to seem, briefly and gloriously, technicolored.
You may already sorta know this stuff — saturation and complementarity, etc. You learned it in school decades ago. But chances are you don’t really remember it that well, partly because tools like this weren’t around to teach it to you. I confess, though, that I’ve never entirely understood why TV screens are made up of tiny blue, red and green lights when I always thought the primary colors were blue, red and yellow. Now I know.
In addition to the various optical illusions and other illustrations of how our minds and eyes perceive color, this app includes some delightful, deftly edited videos in which people of various ages talk about what certain colors signify to them. Remember those late-night undergraduate bull sessions about how we can’t really be sure that other people are thinking of the same thing we are when they say “red”? Well, these videos could revive such talk. I was mystified by the emotional connotations the interviewees attached to my favorite color (green, if you must know).
Writing often gets short shrift in a visually -based app like Color Uncovered. Not so in this case. The text is perfectly calibrated to be understood by the many young visitors to the Exploratorium, without irritating adult readers. Every aspect of this app, down to its smallest design elements, is beautifully and expertly rendered.
Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze , a graphic novel interpretation of the Trojan War, is no substitute for The Iliad, but then, it wasn’t intended to be.
For an event as thoroughly chronicled as it is, the Trojan War is still relatively mysterious: There’s no extant ancient document that presents its entire narrative. The war may or may not have actually taken place, in fact; from the judgment of Paris to the Trojan Horse, it’s only known to us through legends stacked atop legends, beginning with Homer’s “Iliad” and continuing through the movie “Troy” and beyond. So the classification on the spine of “Age of Bronze: Betrayal Part 1,” the third and most recent collection of Shanower’s roughly thrice-annual black-and-white comic book, is “Historical Fiction/Mythology.” That’s a clever contradiction: Is it a recounting of something that didn’t happen, or an invention to dramatize something that did?
It’s sort of both. Shanower’s first smart idea was to treat every extant work related to the Trojan War as a potential part of his story — the “Iliad” and other classical Greek literature, of course, but also Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” and its medieval sources, Mozart’s “Idomeneo,” C.P. Cafavy’s poems about Achilles,even ABBA’s “Cassandra” and the movie “Troy. The proliferating versions of the war’s history are often incompatible, of course, and sometimes Shanower’s interpretations of key incidents synthesize multiple sources. (Was Philoktetes’ foot injured by an arrow or a snake? As far as “Age of Bronze” is concerned, both.) Piecing together the historical and mythological fragments into a coherent plot could be a dry exercise, but the passions and rages of Shanower’s Greeks and Trojans roar like a charging army of spearmen.
If you missed the series when it was collected, it’s being reissued for iPad as it originally appeared, in twenty-page installments, and with maps and a reader’s guide.
I’m revisiting them while my mind is still in thrall to “Stephen Mitchell’s propulsive, muscular rendering of ‘The Iliad’” and Madeline Miller’s gorgeous, modernity-stripped The Song of Achilles.
I recently found myself wide awake in the middle of the night, so I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while: re-watch Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film Persona on my iPad using the Netflix app.
How you view a movie affects your experience of it, which is the main reason film lovers deplore the closing of theaters in the age of home video. The auditorium seating, the darkness, the large screen and the presence of so many other attentive viewers concentrates the mind. So does the theater’s place outside the ordinary business of life. I can stream Netflix to my TV as well as my iPad, but lately I’m finding it harder to sit down and focus on a whole movie, especially in an apartment full of distractions and undone chores.
I also find it easier to read subtitles up close than from across the room. Watching a movie on my iPad is different even from watching a film in bed with my laptop because I’m able to curl up on my side (my preferred reading posture), with the screen propped by a pillow.
Looking at the screen late at night, in the dark, in what amounts to a fetal position in bed makes for an unprecedentedly intimate, enveloping, almost womblike cinematic experience. It turned out to be perfect for this film about intimacy, the story of an actress suffering from a case of hysterical muteness and the nurse assigned to care for her in an isolated seaside cottage.
Persona seemed entirely different from the first time I saw it, decades ago, in a drafty art house with a post-college boyfriend who was introducing me to Bergman’s work. That meant negotiating a very different sort of intimate terrain, and the art-house experience can be oddly pressured. You’re rarely comfortable, which always reduces my tolerance for slow movies, and you know you’ll be expected to make some sort of thoughtful comment afterwards. Chances are, if you’re seeing a classic art film like Persona, it’s with someone who already loves it and wants you to love it, too.
This time, it was just me and the two characters (played by Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson), who both looked heartbreakingly young. I remember the movie as very cryptic, but now I see that it simply has a multiplicity of meanings, all of which are fairly accessible. The arty bits of found footage I regarded as most worth decoding now look a little quaint — and how did I miss that Persona is a kind of ghost story, one of my favorite genres? I was so much closer to the actors this time, their faces right there, as if they were lying on the pillow next to me. Their performances — the core of the film — overwhelmed me.
You do lose something seeing a film without an audience, but I feel that more with comedies than with this type of serious-minded art film. There was a chilliness and distance to the art-house experience I don’t miss at all.
I’m more drawn to games than you are, Laura, especially when I’ve spent the day writing, but I’ve never been good at shoot-em-up stuff. I like cards and other kinds of strategy, and things involving connections or geometric shapes. Pipe Dream, derailer of many undergraduate papers, was an old Windows favorite. Tetris, too, but I never had nightmares about it, which is more than I can say about the pipes’ green goo.
I’ve found some great games for the iPhone — Eliss and, before the “upgrades,” Twistlink and Surfacer — but most either haven’t been reconfigured for the iPad or don’t translate well to the larger screen. One exception is Stay, another balance game, this one involving falling squares, rectangles, and skulls. Though Stay is sized for the iPhone, not the iPad, the washed-out, low-res images don’t suffer the way so many others do in the 2x-blowing-up. I prefer the larger version.
In the easiest mode, the idea is to keep your little red triangle on the seesaw as long as you can. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so hard. Until the skulls start dropping. They explode into eight or ten deadly little black asteroids.
I’ve never gotten good enough to discover what horrors lurk in the more difficult settings.
Yes, like you I covet an iPad 3. Who doesn’t? But like a lot of people, I’m concerned about the recent revelations of inhumane labor practices used by Apple’s suppliers in China.
As many others have pointed out, none of Apple’s competitors can boast a more moral supply chain. Even if they did, switching from the brand I’ve sworn by for almost 30 years is almost impossible to contemplate. I wouldn’t mind paying a bit more to know that building my iPad wasn’t so horrible it caused someone to kill himself. However, I’ve also read that pressure to maintain plantation-style work environments in China has less to do with keeping the costs of labor down than it does with keeping up a brisk pace of innovation and ample stock.
Tech companies are drunk on novelty and the high makes them want more. Tech journalists and the most avid consumers are always jonesing for something new.
Maybe some of them need it, but if they’re like most of the average computer and smartphone owners I know, they already have much more machine than they really need or will ever use. The only real problem I have with my iPad 1 is its memory; I’ve downloaded almost 150 apps, and all of them can’t fit at the same time, so I have to swap them out to try something new. That’s annoying, but no hardship.
The truth is that I don’t need to upgrade my hardware as often as I have in the past. I can update the OS and work around any limitations until my computer, my iPhone or my iPad actually breaks. I don’t really need Siri, though it does seem cool. I don’t have to have (sob!) a retina screen on my iPad.
Until Apple cleans up its act a bit more than it already has, I’ve resolved to wait as long as possible between upgrades. I’m guessing that’s at least five years between computers and four years between mobile devices, as opposed to three and two, my previous rate. It’s not a boycott, but that does mean that in any 10 year period, I’ll be buying one less laptop and two fewer mobile devices.
One more thing: This decision doesn’t mean much unless I communicate it to Apple. They seem to be at least somewhat responsive to such complaints. I’m working on a letter now.
Maud and I have been going back and forth on The Chimerist’s house style. My journalism background makes me unusually sticklerish on this subject; I care less about which style we use than that we’re consistent. Maud likes the Oxford comma, which I’m not used to since it’s not AP style (what most of the publications I write for use). I did adjust to it, though, when writing my book, which was governed by the Chicago Manual. So, we’re using the Oxford comma. Unless I forget, in which case, Maud gets to scold me.
The thing we’re hung up on, however, is how to set the names of apps. AP style puts the titles of most works of art in quotation marks, rather than italics. That’s due to something about typesetting in the newspapers where AP style emerged back in the olden days. (It also turned out to be good for early HTML publications, where the last character in an italicized word would lean into the space before the first character in the next word set in roman type — awful!) But italics do look better, and you don’t run into trouble with possessives.
Anyway, we’ve been kicking the question around, and at one point Maud went in to put the titles of all apps in quotes. This didn’t seem weird for apps like “Chopsticks” or “Meanwhile,” which are obviously fictional, narrative works like novels or films. But what about Evernote or Flipboard? They’re apps, too, but setting their names in quotes or italics feels strange — they’re tools like Microsoft Word or Scrivener, not works of art. (Though Scrivener comes pretty close to art in my book.)
This question gets to the heart of what we want to explore with The Chimerist. Some apps are most definitely works of art; others are definitely not. But what about Strange Rain, an app that I approached as a piece of storytelling, but that my friend Clive uses as a sound effects machine when he’s having trouble getting to sleep? An app that’s not especially creative — say, a basic catalog of images from an art exhibit — would definitely get quotes or italics if it were published as a printed book, but requires a lot less ingenuity in the making than Evernote.
We decided from the start that The Chimerist would not cover the utilitarian apps that (along with games) dominate most app review sites. We want to do our small bit to foster and encourage the innovative use of tablets as a creative platform. But the App Store is a crazy hodgepodge of barely-organized stuff, from currency converters to interactive versions of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” (As a former bank clerk, Eliot might have appreciated the irony of that.) It’s not always clear what’s art and what’s not. After all, most people think of Steve Jobs as immensely creative but he never made an actual work of art in any conventional sense of the term.
Who knew that a little thing like quotation marks could trigger so much soul-searching about our mission?
I fell in love with Desi Leaves Town in spite of myself, and then fell out of love with it. It’s an app that tumbles through the awkward triangular space between novel, film and game. It doesn’t really work, but the reasons why are interesting.
Desi Leaves Town tells the story of a rich, jaded Parisian aesthete who shuts himself up in a suburban villa to escape the world he despises and to pursue various peculiar lifestyle and design choices. It’s based (loosely) on an 1884 novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans. However, the protagonist has been changed into a giant cravat-wearing frog, which alleviates much of the ridiculous (and, I have to say, very French) grandiosity of his carryings-on. Desi pursues elaborate and eccentric design schemes (buying a tortoise to set off the colors in his rug, then deciding to have the animal’s shell gilded and encrusted with gems), and then mopes around after he gets tired of them. That’s the extent of the plot.
At least as far as I can tell. The story is told by a series of short animated films alternating with basic puzzle games. The interactivity is all in the games, which did not much bother me. I was enchanted by the artwork (by Jakob Haglof) to the degree that I was willing to set aside my usual literary Francophobia. Desi, who would have been insufferably tedious as a human being, was much easier to take as a cartoon amphibian, sort of like Mr. Toad if he’d falling under the influence of Oscar Wilde. As befits the visual realization of a book about a person obsessed with color, the palette of Desi Leaves Town was so voluptuously saturated, its use of patterns and contrasting hues so bold, I felt happy just to stare at it.
However, I got stuck on one of the puzzles and could go no further. This was frustrating. Some of the puzzles were too rudimentary to be fun, but could be quickly gotten through. Others were challenging enough to hold my interest. My stumbling block, however, involved flipping exactly the right configurations of switches on a perfume machine, and it proved to be simultaneously difficult and boring. For reasons unknown to god and man, there is no “skip” option, and so I had to jettison the whole thing. By then, I cared — just a smidgeon — about Desi’s fate, but not enough to slog through all those lever combos. Instead of the interactivity opening up new experiences, it imprisoned me in a dead end.
Desi Leaves Town exemplifies how difficult it is to integrate narrative with games; each interferes with the other rather than advancing it. I’ve played puzzle games where I sat impatiently through the attempts to impose a “story,” but this is the first case in which I would happily have dispensed with all the puzzles to see what happened.
“See” is the operative word. Puzzles that were uniformly elementary but fully as ravishing as the rest of the app would have been welcome. If they were clever or inventive, better yet, but in that case I probably would have lost interest in the story. The fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did suggests that I’m more easily swayed by eye candy than I’d like to believe.
These are my screenshots — two photos by Pierre-Louis Pierson, of the Comtesse de Castiglione, Virginie Oldoni, a woman who is both a muse to my second novel, The Queen of the Night, and the villain of it as well. The first, “The Opera Ball,” I like to look at as it perfectly contains the tone of the novel. The second, “Scherzo di Follia,” on the home page, is a famous one of her eye.
Oldoni was a bit of a 19th Century Cindy Sherman, one of the most famous beauties in Second Empire Paris and probably the most notorious mistress of Napoleon the III. She had herself photographed in her most famous gowns and costumes to document her own history, and Pierson did very well by her. She’s my novel’s presiding ghost, and I wrote about her before I knew she existed, inventing a character like her before finding a photo of her by Pierson, dressed as I had described her. These two photos help me remember what I am doing somehow, so they are here.
I bought my iPad back in 2010. I didn’t initially like it, despite some high hopes. I found the lack of Flash ridiculous, an ostentatious prohibition like the colored dots Apple forced fashion magazines like GQ and VMan to put on their photo spreads, over nipples and other potentially obscene areas. These actually enraged me so much I almost returned it. The censorship by dot was all due to Steve Jobs’ famous fear of porn, and it made the tablet editions of these magazines look and feel a lot like they were being subjugated to the demands of a high-tech gated community run by a co-op board with a bizarre moral code. One that was only going to force you to pay for things you could get for free elsewhere, and without the dots. I didn’t like a machine that felt as if it didn’t trust me to be an adult. Who were these dots for? Who was going to accidentally see a nipple and be offended except me? My window to the future of media had a child lock on it that I didn’t ask for and couldn’t take off.
Worse, it wasn’t even legislated — it was only due to Steve Jobs’ personal foibles, and as such, it was immune to appeal, unlike, say, a law. But then I found Comixology and so the device stayed put. Because I really did like reading comics on the iPad — it was like the most organized set of reading copies ever.
Once Magazine brings photojournalism to the iPad in monthly issues of three stories each. The format is simple — several pages of intelligent reporting interspersed with gorgeous photography — but native to the device, so that the essays are pleasing and straightforward to navigate, with surprising touches: a short, unobtrusive opening sound clip; a brief, dreamy video, easily skipped if you’re not in the mood on first read.
You can tell right away that this is not a periodical imported from print.
The writers and photographers the editors work with have a way of making the people and places whose stories they’re telling feel present rather than bemusedly scrutinized.
For the March issue, photographer Thomas Lekfeldt and writer Lene Winther traveled to Zambia to document Chinese development and influence there. The resulting essay, Africhina, examines the tension between the region’s desperate need for jobs, education, and investment, which China is providing, and concerns about sustainability and — in a place where protesting miners have been shot at by their Chinese managers — human rights.
“And Satan Also Came Among Them,” by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky and Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, is about the rape, over three years, of 130 women (and girls) in an eastern Bolivian Mennonite colony by eight men who sprayed “a homemade anesthetizing substance” through bedroom windows at night to drug entire families. Even now, some members of the community deny that any of this actually happened. The victims, including the girl disappearing behind the door in the shot above, worry that the experience left them “stained.”
The March issue also featured Once’s first work of fiction, from Peter Orner, also photo-illustrated. With so few general-interest magazines publishing short stories these days, I’m interested to see what April brings.
A subscription costs $1.99 per month; single issues are $2.99. The images below, taken from an essay on seal hunts in Greenland, appeared at the magazine’s debut last September.
The photographer is Andrea Gjestvang. Once promises to split App Store revenues with contributors.
Chopsticks ($6.99) falls somewhere between a book and an app. It’s a scrapbook “novel” telling the story of a difficult romance between two high school students, published by Razorbill, a Young Readers imprint at Penguin, in both app and print forms. The challenge of assembling this fusion of photography, video, animation, and audio clips was recently recounted in the Wall Street Journal as part of a longer story on the enhanced ebook genre. Chopsticks was held up as an important test case on the viability of the form.
I have my doubts about the inclusion of too much visual material in a text narrative (outside of picture books for young children, that is), but Chopsticks has very little text to begin with. The characters write each other notes and IMs, and there are faux documents from schools and the sanitarium where the character Glory, a piano prodigy, is sequestered for a while. You aren’t told the story, as is the case with prose novels and graphic novels; instead, you have to deduce it from the images and scraps of writing supplied by the authors, Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral. While some of these are fairly straightforward — programs for Glory’s performances and newspaper clippings describing her breakdown at Carnegie Hall — others are winningly subtle: a stack of board games momentarily puzzled me until I realized it was meant to indicate how Glory killed time in the sanitarium.
This element of detective work made Chopsticks much more engaging than I’d expected. I think fiction works in part by eliciting an imaginative investment from its reader. Instead of the access to the characters’ inner selves that prose usually offers, Chopsticks shows us what they look like, what they draw (Frank, Glory’s boyfriend, is an artist), what they pack for a trip, what they scribble in the margins of the books they’re reading. From these clues, the reader is invited to imagine not just what’s happened, but how the two principles feel and think about it.
The only frustration I felt with Chopsticks resulted from the abundance of embedded YouTube clips showing what the characters watched on TV or compiled into the music mix tapes they swap. The Wall Street Journal article explains that this was a strategy to work around the rights nightmares associated with using music and video from copyrighted sources, which is clever, but ultimately not that successful. You can’t listen to the music while looking at the images in Chopsticks and I, personally, didn’t feel much like pausing to watch music videos by the Decembrists or Death Cab for Cutie. But then, I wouldn’t, and the inclusion of the characters’ favorite songs might be more meaningful to the intended audience.
Will I return to Chopsticks, the way I occasionally return to Touch Press’ landmark enhanced version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land? Probably not, but that has more to do with the subject matter than the form. I’d love to see an adult story told this way, with images, videos, and interactive garnishes luring me into a puzzle that offered more mystery and ideas. If the videos advanced the story instead of bringing it to a halt, they might seem less of an interruption. As the WSJ explains, putting something like this together is expensive and complicated, more like making a film than writing, editing and publishing a book. But I hope someone tries it.
Scott Snibbe first created Tripolar, a drawing app that “animates the tangled, abstract, ever-changing forms a pendulum makes as it swings” over magnets, for the Whitney’s CODeDOC internet exhibition in 2002. The idea was to explore “the relationship between a software artist’s code and the resulting work of art” but also to ”suggest the connection between mental states and chatic phenomena: if even a simple physicial system is so unpredictable and sensitive to initial conditions, what about our minds?”
The drawings are stark and often gorgeous at first, a series of abstract black English roses, but if you let the pendulum swing too long you’ll end up with a knotted mass of virtual string. This continuum between beauty and disaster also suggests — and to some degree mirrors — the tension between spontaneity and control in other, more traditional forms of art.
Should the novelist endlessly tinker with adjectives, or will the book be stronger, as Borges suggests Twain’s was, if he leaves the mistakes but maintains a strong voice? Does she find the story as she goes, or does she need to know the plot in advance?
When is an work of art finished? The artist must know. Or decide.
(For more straightforward pendulum fun, try Newton’s Cradle. And Rhizome has a brief history of the Whitney Artport.)
In which we talk with Findings about our reasons for starting the site.
Welcome to the second installment of “How We Will Read,” a series exploring the future of reading from the perspectives of publishers, writers, and intellectuals. This week, we talked to Laura Miller and Maud Newton, founders of The Chimerist, a new blog dedicated to exploring the imaginative potential of the iPad.
Laura Miller is a writer and critic. She was a co-founder of Salon and is currently a staff-writer there. Maud Newton is a writer, editor and critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, Narrative, the Los Angeles Times, the Paris Review Daily, Granta, The Awl,and many other publications. In addition to ruminating on the experience of using the iPad, Maud and Laura discussed the future of narrative forms, interactive storytelling, and their hopes for the evolution of publishing. What resulted was two poetic and nuanced views of what digital reading means to people who love books. Their work at The Chimerist had already distinguished Laura and Maud as thoughtful writers at the intersection of media and technology. It was incredible to hear what else they were thinking about as they navigate this new and rapidly changing space. Check out their interview below, and be sure to check out The Chimerist, too. Tell me how you guys got together and founded the Chimerist. Maud Newton: Well, this is the first time Laura and I have spoken over the phone. Laura Miller: We did actually have lunch in person to talk about it. MN: And we got drinks once. But those were the only in-person meetings we had about it. I was writing a little diary for the Paris Review about using my iPad, and I was having a back-and-forth with Laura about how annoying the app store is to navigate. I was going to quote her in the interview, so I asked her if that was okay, and we started talking about how great it would be to do a site about the iPad. That was May or June of 2010. LM: I actually had this argument with a friend last night — he was advancing the Cory Doctorow thesis that it’s this horrible, oppressive device because it forces you to be a consumer rather than a creator. And I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that it is more a device for consumption of culture than production of culture. But I already have a laptop, so it’s not like it’s supplanting my laptop when I want to create something. Most the stuff I create for The Chimerist I create on my laptop, not my iPad. There’s some sort of disgrace to being a reader, or a viewer, or just absorbing some work of culture — it’s this lesser activity, by that rationale. I really disagree with that. I feel like reading and looking at art and all of these things are creative acts in their own way. The experience of a piece of culture being appreciated takes two people. A poor reader cannot have a great reading experience with a great author. With the iPad I can be more relaxed and receptive. In the industry lingo, it’s called the “lean back” rather than the “sit forward” mode. That is a buzzword, but I kind of agree — I lean back with my iPad, in a calm mood. I’m not responding to email, I’m not checking Twitter, I’m not feeling like I should be writing something, I’m just there for whatever somebody has created. I’m there to witness it, and appreciate it, and absorb it. I like the idea of having a site that is a place to think about what the potential of the iPad is — the narrative potential of the tablet and the potential of the tablet to create venues for new art and new kinds of fun that blur the boundaries of these things. It’s a really exciting time to me. When I first heard about the iPhone, even though I had the most bottom-of-the-barrel phone — that I was always losing — I said, “Ooh, I want that!” And the iPad is just vastly superior to the iPhone, as far as the user’s ability to experience art and to try new things that aren’t just games. I think I use my iPad for a greater variety of things than Laura does. I do use it a little bit for work. And I do a lot of reading for my non-day job on it, and that basically includes everything I’m known for. When an e-galley is available, I tend to read that, because then I can read it at home, on my iPad, and then take my iPad with me on the subway, or just sync it to my iPhone and read that way. Read More
What about the iPad appeals to you as readers and consumers?
MN: Unlike Laura, I’m not really interested in engaging with people who don’t like the iPad, which is one of the things that appeals to me about The Chimerist. I have a lot of friends who are really skeptical of its use and its value, and that’s fine, I’m not trying to convert anyone. I don’t care. In my opinion they’re missing out, but that’s their choice (laughs).
But it is a special kind of canvas. It is a device that enables you to focus on one thing at a time, and I know some people have a real issue with that, that you can’t open another window inside what you’re doing, but I actually find that really refreshing. Even as someone who loves the internet. When I turn to my iPad, I’m looking for a different kind of distraction-free experience, for whatever I’m working on at the time.
Laura Miller is a writer and critic. She was a co-founder of Salon and is currently a staff-writer there. Maud Newton is a writer, editor and critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, Narrative, the Los Angeles Times, the Paris Review Daily, Granta, The Awl,and many other publications.
In addition to ruminating on the experience of using the iPad, Maud and Laura discussed the future of narrative forms, interactive storytelling, and their hopes for the evolution of publishing. What resulted was two poetic and nuanced views of what digital reading means to people who love books. Their work at The Chimerist had already distinguished Laura and Maud as thoughtful writers at the intersection of media and technology. It was incredible to hear what else they were thinking about as they navigate this new and rapidly changing space. Check out their interview below, and be sure to check out The Chimerist, too.
Tell me how you guys got together and founded the Chimerist.
Maud Newton: Well, this is the first time Laura and I have spoken over the phone.
Laura Miller: We did actually have lunch in person to talk about it.
MN: And we got drinks once. But those were the only in-person meetings we had about it. I was writing a little diary for the Paris Review about using my iPad, and I was having a back-and-forth with Laura about how annoying the app store is to navigate. I was going to quote her in the interview, so I asked her if that was okay, and we started talking about how great it would be to do a site about the iPad. That was May or June of 2010.
LM: I actually had this argument with a friend last night — he was advancing the Cory Doctorow thesis that it’s this horrible, oppressive device because it forces you to be a consumer rather than a creator. And I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that it is more a device for consumption of culture than production of culture. But I already have a laptop, so it’s not like it’s supplanting my laptop when I want to create something. Most the stuff I create for The Chimerist I create on my laptop, not my iPad.
There’s some sort of disgrace to being a reader, or a viewer, or just absorbing some work of culture — it’s this lesser activity, by that rationale. I really disagree with that. I feel like reading and looking at art and all of these things are creative acts in their own way. The experience of a piece of culture being appreciated takes two people. A poor reader cannot have a great reading experience with a great author.
With the iPad I can be more relaxed and receptive. In the industry lingo, it’s called the “lean back” rather than the “sit forward” mode. That is a buzzword, but I kind of agree — I lean back with my iPad, in a calm mood. I’m not responding to email, I’m not checking Twitter, I’m not feeling like I should be writing something, I’m just there for whatever somebody has created. I’m there to witness it, and appreciate it, and absorb it.
I like the idea of having a site that is a place to think about what the potential of the iPad is — the narrative potential of the tablet and the potential of the tablet to create venues for new art and new kinds of fun that blur the boundaries of these things. It’s a really exciting time to me. When I first heard about the iPhone, even though I had the most bottom-of-the-barrel phone — that I was always losing — I said, “Ooh, I want that!” And the iPad is just vastly superior to the iPhone, as far as the user’s ability to experience art and to try new things that aren’t just games.
I think I use my iPad for a greater variety of things than Laura does. I do use it a little bit for work. And I do a lot of reading for my non-day job on it, and that basically includes everything I’m known for. When an e-galley is available, I tend to read that, because then I can read it at home, on my iPad, and then take my iPad with me on the subway, or just sync it to my iPhone and read that way.