The Facebook Book

My new book, For My Next Illusion I Will Use Wings, will be published in print in Hebrew in a couple of months. But at the beginning of January 2012 I decided to try something new, and published a free digital copy of it on… Facebook.

The idea of publishing an entire new collection of very short stories on Facebook was, in part, an experiment to see how literature can become more social. The digital format has enormous advantages for the reader; but most of the time digital formats still try to imitate the experience of reading a book in print (paging, bookmarks, virtual bookshelf, etc). I wanted to see if it could be different: how literature could evolve if the reader can see who of his friends likes the same stories, who is sharing the stories he shared with others, how does the book endure with readers’ comments on every page, visible to all.

I deliberately chose the very low-tech format of a photo album, trying to keep the focus on the stories themselves (but also knowing that Facebook would offer better exposure to a photo than to text). This also made the book readable not only on a computer but also on an iPad or a smartphone, and even by people that don’t have a Facebook profile, without almost any technical effort on my part.

This project is still evolving when I write this; the thing that surprised me from the beginning was to witness (amazed and to be honest a little petrified) how hundreds of people, simultaneously, were reading the book “cover to cover” (by liking story after story), minutes after it was published, almost in real time. My totally un-mainstream art became viral, only by allowing it to be read on a site where people already spend a lot of their time. Or, maybe more importantly, by absorbing the stories into real life — or a representation of real life on Facebook — side by side with status updates and links and photos from other people’s walls.

This deconstruction of the idea of conventional publishing proved to me something I always suspected: people do want to read short stories, they do want to read poetry. Most of the time they just aren’t given a real opportunity to discover it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the next seven days, Electric Literature will be publishing a sample from Alex Epstein’s For My Next Illusion I Will Use Wings on our Facebook page. The stories were translated from the original Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.

— Alex Epstein was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1971 and moved to Israel when he was eight years old. He is the author of four collections of short stories and three novels; In 2003 he was awarded Israel’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature. In 2007 he participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In 2010 he was writer in residence at the University of Denver. Blue Has No South and Lunar Savings Time, his collections of short-short stories, are available in English, from Clockroot Books.

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