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Editorial June 2002
An Open eBook
By Hilary Williamson

Last night I dreamed the strangest dream ... and, oddly enough, despite recent news, it had nothing to do with war and peace. I dreamt of an open ebook, not only open in its architecture but open to my imagination. Before sleep I'd been musing on what I'd really like in features, without being restricted to the current state of technology - not just an inexpensive, light and legible, easily personalized (text size, style and scrolling) device open to multiple information formats; that should only be the beginning.

It's late at night in my dream and I'm reading a folding book with two well lit flat panel pages. It has a wireless connection to the Internet. It so happens that this is also my portable computer, but for me, that's its less important function; reading comes first. I'm pressing on a corner to flip through pages of a book I've just read, looking for a passage that I vaguely remember (I know, I know I can do a search but I like flipping). Ah, there it is - I bookmark it and email to a friend; I'm sure he'll appreciate it. Of course he will only see the quote, unless he decides to buy the book and read it right away himself. If it weren't so late, I'd conference him in, so we could look the text over together and chat about it in real time.

Dream on, you say? Okay ... I come to an especially spellbinding passage; would love to hear it spoken, so I quickly check to see if audio is available. Hmmm, the author recorded that herself. I authorize a small extra payment and enjoy the sonorous phrases. Later on, a chapter stimulates ideas; must save them for posterity, or at least for my reading group next week. I record them verbally, tagged to the reading group folder, and see that they have been annotated to the spot I picked. The suspense builds in the next chapter, and I turn down the spooky music that plays with it; don't want to keep anyone else awake.

The little bookworm on the screen is wiggling its head at me ... great, it's been keeping an eye out for new books. I look to see what it has. Something I've been anxiously awaiting, a new mystery by Eliot Pattison, must have that one; I authorize purchase, will start reading it soon. What's this? Haven't heard of this author, why the recommendation? Worm says it correlates highly with other books that I like, wants me to look at some comments. They're from a reviewer I trust; does sound like a good choice. I quickly skim the extract and then decide to go for it. I'll read it next.

When I finish one of the many books I'm currently reading, Worm wants to know what I liked about it; all part of getting to know my reading tastes, so he can do his job better; I quickly tick off a few categories. Comforting to know that while I read, he's out there with the spiders and other wriggly net critters, looking for a selection to suggest to me next. Now he's found a movie made from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series; didn't realize that was out but I must see it; good thing I'm a night owl! I flatten my two ebook pages into a movie screen and settle down to enjoy it.

Last night I dreamed of ebooks open to new possibilities. 'Mere dreams, mere dreams' says W. B. Yeats, and William Shakespeare calls them 'children of an idle brain'. But Thomas Lovell Beddoes has the last words on the subject:

If there were dreams to sell,
Merry and sad to tell,
And the crier rung the bell,
What would you buy?

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