Mixed-Media Books

When I hear the word ‘book’, a picture of a sequence of letters on a page springs to mind. However, I’ve read a few books in recent years that make use of additional media to help convey the message of the story. Those can be called mixed-media books, since visual elements accompany the more traditional text. These extra elements can be either relevant documents, changes in the design of the page and text, or a piece of artwork.

One type of mixed-media books consists of traditional text as the main medium, but also includes letters, emails, webpages, social network status, conversations on online forums or interviews. These can either be used to show what the characters are reading or as direct information to the reader. Throughout the decades, many books have featured letters, for example, although graphic elements were not always used to visually set them apart. So, those novels don’t really look like mixed-media books.

However, such elements are quite noticeable in other novels. The Power by Naomi Alderman not only features letters at the beginning and the end, but also presents the reader with archival documents and an extract from a chat on an online forum, in order to tell the story of what women were able to do with supreme power. Excerpts from an interview with the main character, Kirsten Raymonde, are an important element in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Through them the reader gets more information about what happened when the Georgian flu spread worldwide.

To help convey the feelings and viewpoints of the characters or the narrator, other elements can also be used, such as images or drawings amidst the text, a variation of font type, size or colour, or a change in the direction of words. The use of drawings is important in a few of the novels I read, including the afore mentioned The Power, but also in The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The last two novels can also be characterised by a complex use of design and graphic elements, highlighted letters and handwritten texts. Also in Livro by José Luís Peixoto, quite a simple element, a circle around words, is used to convey a crucial plot point in the book.

What about illustrated books and graphic novels? I don’t really consider them to be mixed-media books. In illustrated books, we usually get to know all of the story just by reading the text. The illustrations are a non-intrusive extra that reinforces the tale already told through the use of words. On the other hand, in graphic novels and comics the drawings are an essential component. The visual elements are not only companions to the written word, but have a primary role in telling the story.

While I really liked some of the mixed-media books I read, others I had mixed feelings about. Nevertheless, the problems I had with The Power and The Shock of the Fall aren’t related with them featuring visual elements accompanying the traditional text. So, I certainly want to read more mixed-media books in the future.

Do you have any recommendations? Tell me in the comments!


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