Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

A book that reads you?

Have you ever been reading a book and become distracted, bored by a dragging plot or exhaustive piece of dialogue? Sure, we all have. It has always been the responsibility of the author to ensure that the book’s narrative, a static, fixed thing, kept the reader interested and engaged with the story. Not so any longer. Enter TREEbook: the book that reads you.

TREEbook logo


TREEbooks are a new ebook technology developed by Medallion Press, a publishing company that seeks “to synergize the arts and cultivate developing technologies to carve a path on the leading edge of content delivery.” Boy, is that an understatement. The name stands for Timed Reading Experience Ebook, and they are like nothing we’ve ever seen before—in fact, they more closely resemble video games than books.

The idea behind TREEBook is that the book interprets a reader’s behaviors and reading style and adapts accordingly. The book has a main story line, or, to follow the tree analogy, a trunk, which then has an infinite number of story branches that may or may not present themselves over the course of reading the story, depending on the individual reader. How is this possible?

Built into the code of each TREEbook™ are time triggers that are set off based on your reading habits, such as your average reading pace, which day you’re reading, or even how long you read, leading you to each successive branch within the story. With the interplay between time triggers and story branches, different readers can experience various results of pivotal moments within the same TREEbook™.

The Julian Year logo


Medallion plans to release the first TREEbook compatible e-reading app in October of this year. The first TREEbook title, The Julian Year by Gregory Lamberson, will be published sometime in 2013. A murder mystery, the book could be perfect for the kind of reading experience TREEbook promises. If the detective work of protagonist Julian Weizak is trudging along and you put the book down, “the publisher can…send out notifications to the book alerting readers that they may be missing new events if they don’t pick the book up within a certain time frame,” according to a story in Publishers Weekly last week.

What’s important to note about this new format is that it’s a passive, not active reading experience. As a reader, you’ll probably not notice that the book’s storyline is adapting to you and making subtle tweaks to plot and character. There are no decisions to make; you simply read along as you normally would any other book. As Medallion president Adam Mock told Publishers Weekly, this is not a choose your own ending kind of story. In this way, although multiple people buy the same copy of the book, the story they read is entirely unique.

Despite all of these intriguing features, the idea of a book interpreting my particular reading style and behaviors seems kind of creepy. You lose a bit of the traditional reading experience, I would imagine, by being constantly worried that how you’re reading is affecting the story being presented. That doesn’t sound very relaxing to me; it actually seems almost stressful. Will I miss Julian’s crucial discovery of the motive behind the murders if I pause a few moments to answer the phone? That reminds me of a more primitive time—you know, before the advent of DVR.

What do you think, readers? Does this excite you, or freak you out a little bit? Perhaps both?

6 comments on “A book that reads you?

  1. Claire Schulz Ivett
    June 6, 2012

    This is a little too weird for me–I’m kind of a purist, I guess, and feel that the prose in a book should stay the same no matter how quickly I’m able to read it.

  2. Leah Thompson
    June 6, 2012

    This reminds me of two things: first, the movie Clue; second, Farmville. Clue debuted in movie theatres with three different endings– meaning that if you saw the movie on one night and your friend saw it on another night, you each walked away seeing a different movie. Which is kind of cool, but also makes it a bit difficult for, say (applying it to TREEbooks), discussing at book club. And Farmville… I played that for a hot second in college but got fed up pretty quickly. I’m not crazy about video games that run your life. (Sorry, can’t got to lunch today, my strawberries are going to be ripe at 1:15 and I need to harvest them before I run off to biology class–!)

    So while I think TREEbooks are interesting, I also think they take away two parts of reading that I enjoy: discussing the work with other readers and reading at my leisure. I don’t want to feel pressured to get back to my book so that I don’t miss anything. That takes all the slow pleasure out of doing something that I use to take me *away* from the pressure of time.

  3. Keira Lyons
    June 6, 2012

    I agree with both of you! Book reading should be a leisurely, at-your-own-pace activity. If there’s pressure to speed up or continue reading beyond what you feel like, it’s not exactly leisurely anymore!

  4. Casey Brown
    June 6, 2012

    This would be perfect for a rebirth of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. The nerd in me is quivering…choose page 56 for WITH EXCITEMENT, choose page 4 for IN FEAR.

  5. Pingback: Coliloquy: Choose your own adventure…and possibly everyone else’s, too « appazoogle

  6. Pingback: Apps to help you organize your books, whether print or digital « appazoogle

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This entry was posted on June 6, 2012 by in Technology and tagged , , .

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