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Updated: September 23, 2010 14:26 IST

Virtual bookshelf

SRIYA NARAYANAN
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FLIP THROUGH THE PAGES: The Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi e-book reader. Photo: AP
AP FLIP THROUGH THE PAGES: The Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi e-book reader. Photo: AP

Has Internet weaned people away from books? Not really, says Sriya Narayanan, as literature lovers are using the web to break down barriers to both reading and writing. Netizens are hooked on E-zines that feature both amateur and established writers. Traditional rhyming poetry, companion animal specials, graphic short stories, blank verse, flash fiction — access whatever interests you free of cost online

TV brought bad news for books. Passive consumption and moving images made it tough to choose a hardbound classic over primetime sitcoms, for most of us anyway. It came as no surprise then when the Internet arrived in all its distracting glory and bookworms around the world cringed in anticipation. Multiple chat windows, unabashed social spying and the thrill of knowing how link leads to link — was it the end of the reading habit?

The virtual world may be responsible for reducing our attention span thanks to its eyeball-grabbing measures but it's also the most adaptable medium around. Literature lovers are using the web to breathe new life into the written word and to break down barriers to both reading and writing. E-zines (or electronic magazines) featuring amateur writers alongside established names have caught the fancy of netizens who are hooked on these online anthologies. The most appealing quality of literature that's made available online is how easy it is to sift through multiple genres and settle on what interests you. Traditional rhyming poetry, companion animal specials, graphic short stories, gay and lesbian writing, blank verse, flash fiction, writing from Asia and even tweet-sized musings — name the theme and Google points you to a counter where you can help yourself free of cost, since most journals don't require subscription. This literary food court where there's something for everyone might be just the thing to compete with the lure of canned laughter.

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, says that the readership of online journals has grown considerably since more people are logging on these days, and that devices like the iPad and e-readers like the Kindle are blurring the differences between flipping through virtual pages and reading them in book form. “Although some readers may still feel that much of the enjoyment of literature comes through the materiality of a book, I think that younger readers will not have this same devotion to the codex,” she says. While hundreds of online journals have sprung up from various corners of the world, what keeps the readers coming back is high-quality content. Editors who have experience and use a careful selection process help retain their follower base.

Launch pad

For people with no experience in writing, the e-publishing circuit is a door-opener. With some e-journals declaring that their 48-hour response time is strictly followed, newbie authors only need to email their work and sit back and wait for a couple of days. Thanks to the diversity of categories and journals that are just a click away, multiple submissions are also easy.

Combining big names in the field with first-timers is something The New Yorker does successfully. Their Fiction and Poetry section features authors such as Paul Theroux and Junot Diaz and also throws the spotlight on new writers and poets. Their 20 Under 40 summer fiction issue features the work of twenty young writers with interviews. If you have less than a minute to spend on reading, Short Fast and Deadly, a project by Joseph Quintela offers you poetry that could fit into a Twitter message (140 characters or less) and prose that doesn't extend beyond a paragraph. Pressure of this sort does wonders for creativity and Quintela releases a fresh virtual issue every week. The Internet also has unbeatable advantages, including the ability to morph into a multimedia entity from a black-and-white text page. Writing that is meant to be read out loud, for example, comes alive in the website Soundzine where words can be experienced both visually and aurally.

Word-of-mouth (including Twitter and Facebook, of course) and some trial and error might be needed to arrive at those bookmark-worthy sites. In this sense, the experience is rather similar to looking for a good read in the real word. It takes some effort but is well worth it when you find that creative treasure that speaks to you from a far-off place.

Some click-worthy literary journals or websites

1. The New Yorker: www.newyorker.com — fiction and poetry from new and established authors

2. Able Muse: www.ablemuse.com — traditional (rhyming) poetry

3. Cha: An Asian Literary Journal: www.asiancha.com — featuring the work of Asian writers

4. Soundzine: www.soundzine.net — readings of prose and poetry

5. Short, Fast and Deadly: www.shortfastanddeadly.com — literature for those with little or no patience

6. Nthposition: www.nthposition.com — Poetry, prose, reviews and opinion

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