Form Versus Format: Tackling New Ways Of Telling A Story

The "novel lite" format of the recent manga story, Book Girl and the Famished Spirit, prompts RT reviewer Stacy Agdern to consider importance of book format. Today the reviewer reflects on the fun way that two new books are playing with what it means to be a paper and ink book.

There was a great deal of fanfare and discussion early last year surrounding the release of It’s A Book, a children’s book that celebrated the printed book in it’s own way. Some parts of the resulting discussions can also be applied to Yen Press’ Book Girl series. Both It’s A Book and the Book Girl series celebrate printed books and the love of reading. But more importantly, one of the central questions asked and answered regarding both of these tales is about format, more specifically, what is the most appropriate format for a story?

Clearly, It’s A Book belongs in a printed paper format. This cute little story, and the way the characters separate the simple qualities of a printed paper book from what they see as the encroachments of the technological age, would not have the same effect if the story were in an electronic or audio format.

And what about the books in the Book Girl series? Book Girl stories are published in ‘novel lite’ form. But what is a ‘novel lite’?  A novel lite is a 200 page novel in manga packaging, with individual inserts and illustrations in the midst of the text. The subject matter ranges across all areas that would possibly appeal to manga fans – from fantasy and action, to complicated meta literary stories. It is a popular format in Japan, and Yen Press recently introduced this format to US readers.

Yen press’s decision to publish Book Girl in this format makes absolute sense. This series tells the story of a book club in a Japanese co-ed high school. It’s two main characters - one a former child prodigy (who won major acclaim with his first novel) and the other a book eating demon (the titular book girl) have pledged to help their fellow classmates find love.

In their adventures, references to reading classic stories and paper books abound; even the themes of the two already released volumes in the series come from classic novels. The first one is inspired by a classic Japanese novel; the second, Book Girl and the Famished Spirit, draws on Wuthering Heights. One of the highest compliments that an avowed hater of ‘that Bronte book’ can pay to the creator of the Book Girl series, is that because of volume two, I’m actually thinking of tackling Wuthering Heights again …

But what we don’t see in the series are references to art. We see the book girl eating the paper that Konoha writes her story snacks on, and names of novels from all sorts of authors dropped left and right. Not to mention that the plot itself is the sort that would make following a manga version of the series practically impossible, if not in the hands of someone with Zack Snyder’s interpretive prowess. (You may know Zack Snyder from his work on making the film version of the Watchmen graphic novel).

Sometimes, part of the appeal of reading material stems from its format. In an almost indefinable way, format can make a title like Book Girl accessible, but can also strengthen the point of a book like It’s a Book. It’s an important decision, especially on the manga side of things, and the novel lite makes that decision that much easier.

- Stacey Agdern

Let us know what you think about some of the interesting ways that books are evolving. And don't miss the *Web Exclusive Review* of Mizuki Nomura's Book Girl and the Famished Spirit