On November 26, 1864, Lewis Carroll gave my relative, Alice Pleasance Liddell, a book he had written for her. He called the book Alice’s Adventures Underground after considering titles such as Alice’s Golden House, Alice Among the Elves, Alice Among the Goblins, and Alice’s Doings In Wonderland. Carroll had spent over two years writing and illustrating the book for Alice. It consisted of ninety-two pages covered with his print like writing as well as thirty-seven of his own pen and ink drawings. The book given to Alice Liddell would change her life forever.
It all began (as Carroll reminded his followers on a number of occasions) because of a 10 year-old girl who had encouraged Carroll’s storytelling for years, and in particular a story he told about Alice in Wonderland during a summer day’s picnic on July 4, 1862. Alice was continuously insistent that Carroll write the story down for her, which he eventually did and ultimately presented to her as an early Christmas gift. The book would also change Carroll’s life forever, but it might never have happened if a young girl had not inspired the previously unpublished children’s book author to write the greatest children’s book of all time.
There are over 20,000 books, films, operas, plays and video games based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. It is estimated that over 8 billion people have read or seen presentations of the “Alice” books. Lewis Carroll is behind only the Bible and Shakespeare in the number of quotations from the “Alice” books that appear in published discourse. In addition to the new adaptations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll’s and Liddell’s lives continue to inspire numerous new books, works of art, and film projects. And all because of “a book given.”
If the book given to Alice in 1864 was given today, just imagine the variety of different ways a creative chap like Lewis Carroll might have presented it to his Alice. Quantum leaps in technology have completely changed the way we write, illustrate, publish, market, promote and consume books. I find myself (like Alice) constantly curious and excited about discovering all the new products in the digital books wonderland, while at the same time overwhelmed by all the new found freedoms the technology revolution promises to offer me. Is the device simple stupid enough for me to connect with quickly in my already complicated life? Is it time to buy this tablet or this e-reader? Will I look out of date to my bridge pals when the new updated version is released in 6 months time? I also wonder whether any of us will recognize the content of yesterday’s “book” once the revolution settles down. Will writing for Google become such an integral part of the book marketing culture that creative processes are dramatically changed?
Between you and me, I yearn for some form of consolidation in all the craziness that would enable me to feel I can comment intelligently on what appears to be the longer term trends in the publishing model. One thing I know for sure: an entertainment business career which kept me moving through the theatrical, television, video, DVD, pay on demand and pay television formats taught me that we don’t stop watching great movies. As a passionate movie lover, I would argue that the changing technology enabled me to watch more great and even not so great movies than ever before, since I was able to do it more often thanks to a variety of formats that accommodated my ever-changing hectic lifestyle. In addition, those great movies that made that unforgettable connection and changed my life forever, I not only watched again and again, but I insisted on owning them in every possible format I could fit onto the living room shelf.
And so I don’t believe that passionate readers, like passionate movie lovers, will ever disappear. The way readers read will of course continue to evolve and change, but certain things about the cultural experience will not. For example, everything will still begin with the written word, and if that written word is to survive the test of time and change lives forever (like the book given to my relative in 1864), it will happen because of rare talent and creativity and innovative thinking in an age that is redefining how we shall read.
In How Will We Read?, join C. M. Rubin and globally renowned thought leaders each week as they explore the future of reading.
C.M. Rubin has more than two decades of professional experience in development, marketing, and art direction for a diverse range of media businesses. She is the author of the widely read on-line series, The Global Search for Education, and is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.
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