‘Eye’ believe this chapter in reading

December 01, 2000

SO this is what they mean by ‘St Louis Blues’. I arrived in the Missouri city for the 22nd annual Jewish Book Festival and discovered that Henry Winkler is still 19 years old.

Henry was the coolest teenager on earth, a quarter of a century ago, when he was The Fonz on Happy Days. Since then he’s become a powerful producer/director in Hollywood and picked up a Golden Globe and an Emmy.

Now he’s starring on Broadway — and he was the festival’s guest of honour.

All, as his photos reveal, by the age of 19. I looked at the youthful grin in my brochure, and discovered that the Gala Patron Dinner with Henry would cost me $500. So I stayed in my room and watched a re-run of Happy Days instead.

This was my first Jewish Book Festival, though I’ve wanted to go for years. I thought it would be like Frankfurt with gefilte fish, but this celebration of reading and publishing could not have been more different from the hard-bargaining flash of the German fair.

Everyone in St Louis was happy to be talking about the thing they loved most — books. About writing books, discovering books, printing books, selling books, ordering books, transporting books, stocking books, borrowing books, losing books, cataloguing books, valuing books, remaindering books, admiring books, preserving books and publicising books.

I hardly had the heart to tell anyone that my own latest book, a novel called Nobody’s Child, will not need to be printed, transported or stocked. There are two simple stages in the life of this book — I write it, you read it.

Nobody’s Child is being published on the internet. With the aid of a small web-design team I have created a site where you can read the first two chapters, about 10,000 words, for free.

I want you to drop by. If you’re hooked, if you want to know what happens next, you can order the next installments.

Every Thursday for the next year I will be publishing one chapter and emailing it to subscribers. Each weekly installment costs just 30 US cents — that’s about 20p — and will be 2,000 to 3,000 words long.

You buy the installments in sets of five, and the only time you have to log on to the site is to renew your subscription.

The total cost of the novel will be $15, around a tenner.

Nobody’s Child is the name of a US gameshow, where three couples compete to win a baby. Tens of millions of TV viewers will scrutinise the contestants’ lives, via dozens of cameras around their homes and workplaces.

Ultimately, the choice is with the viewers — they’ll vote to say which couple gets the right to adopt.

Denny and Nat Monroe are black and appear well-off, living in a pleasant LA suburb. Andy and Mouse Beck are poor, white kids on a trailer park. Terry Impey and Colin Lord are gay — they’ve got cash to spend and a sumptuous apartment in Atlantic City.

The show’s host is a savvy shock-jock named Rob Roy McClean. Right now he’s not saying how he found the baby. It’s nobody’s child . . . until America awards it to the winners.

I believe the web is the future of publishing for novels.

Not all writers will want to work in installments — though I am relishing the prospect of communicating directly with my readers as I write, with one eye on the feedback and a clock on my desk.

But within a decade all writers will see their work go straight to the consumer as soon as it’s finished.

The only obstacle right now is the inconvenience of reading on a computer screen, and the advent of flexible, wafer-thin screens will change that.

Masaya Hijikigawa at the Semiconductor Energy Laboratory of Japan has invented a screen no thicker than a pane of glass. By coating the sheet with silicon vapour which dries to a layer only 0.04 millimetres deep, he created a patchwork of transistors which combine to act like a microchip.

Hijikigawa is hoping to sidestep energy issues by implanting solar cells into his intelligent screens.

The next step will be to coat the silicon directly onto a human eyeball, creating a screen which is invisible to all but the user.

To read a bestseller online, all you will need to do is close your eyes.

There will be a good deal of scepticism to be overcome before that happens, to judge from the reaction I’m getting from friends in book retail to my uristory website.

The common reply is: ‘‘It’ll never catch on — people will always enjoy the physical aspects of reading, like bookshops and the feel of the paper.’’

Horse-riding sceptics were dubious about the attractions of the motor-car too.

I don’t expect that books will become redundant, as horses did. But there are something like 200 million people reading text online every day, and they are getting used to the sensation of absorbing written information from a visual display unit.

The publishing world had better get used to it too. In both Europe and the US, the Jewish community has always been at the forefront of publishing.

We have to get a grip on new technology. Or the forefront will move on without us.

Read Uri Geller’s stunning online novel, Nobody’s Child, at www.uristory.com
Uri Geller’s ParaScience Pack is published by Van Der Meer at £30. To hear an inspirational message from Uri, call 0906 601 0171. Call costs 60p per minute.
Visit him at www.uri-geller.com and e-mail him at urigeller@compuserve.com

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