3:15, Season One: Things That Go Bump in the Night. By Patrick Carman. Scholastic. $12.99.
3-D Thrillers! Bugs and the World’s Creepiest Microbugs. By Paul Harrison. Scholastic. $4.99.
The approach of Patrick Carman’s new book is either a stroke of genius or an insult to readers everywhere. It has become common for books, especially book series, to include multimedia elements. In fact, Carman contributed to one such sequence, writing The Black Circle, the fifth book in The 39 Clues – an ongoing series that encourages readers to collect and trade cards and also spend time online obtaining new clues and gathering additional facts about what is going on. However, 3:15 goes a step beyond this by requiring readers to use multimedia elements. The book itself most closely resembles a murder mystery with the last few pages torn out: none of the 10 stories here has an in-book conclusion. The tales, which are sort of creepy in a predictable way, are essentially the middles of stories. Readers go online and enter a password (given in the book) to get an audio introduction to each story. Those intros are not really necessary to understand the tales or figure out what is going on – they are more in the nature of scene setters, as in the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone television shows. Then the story itself appears in the book, up to but not including the climax. For that, readers must again go online, to the same Web site (www.315stories.com), and this time enter a different password (also given in the book). The second password of each story leads to a video clip that shows the reader what happens at the end. Actually, the videos don’t show very much – no blood and gore, and only modest implications of awful things occurring – but the point is that the book is completely valueless without use of the online elements. Now, that’s new. Whether it is good or bad is distinctly a matter of opinion. Other books with multimedia elements have made those elements optional: they enlarge a story, give more information, aid in understanding, provide additional background, and so on. But the outside-the-book aspects of the stories have not been crucial to the tales themselves. Here they are. Perhaps this packaging will appeal to young readers who spend far more time online than they do with books. But will it appeal enough to make them want to read the book elements at all? That is, for now, an unanswerable question. But certainly Scholastic, the publisher, is going all-out to make 3:15 attractive to reluctant readers: the cover and in-book introduction both point out that the series title refers to three elements (listen, read, watch) and to the fact that the total experience of each story, including all those elements, lasts no more than 15 minutes. Is this where books are going?
Or are they going toward the same sort of 3-D mania that now afflicts movies? 3-D Thrillers! Bugs and the World’s Creepiest Microbugs is, on the face of it, a book of facts – but the facts are not what the book promotes. What is emphasized, through the layout and design of this thin paperback, is the three-dimensional element – the sense that the pictures “pop out” at readers/viewers who use the included red-and-blue-lensed 3-D glasses. The pictures of the many bugs and microbugs (which “you can see properly only under a microscope”) are of course blown up many, many times, so readers (with or without the glasses) can see every strange and presumably creepy part of each creature’s anatomy. There are lots of exclamation points in the simple text: “Some bugs have enormous eyes!” “Some bugs use their mouths to taste food, but many flies and butterflies use their feet!” “Some bugs eat other bugs, which is good news for gardeners!” As for the specific critters here, they range from mosquitoes, termites and locusts to nematodes, head lice and mites: “Not only do you share your bed with house dust mites, you share your food with food mites!” Certainly the bugs, whether they can be seen with the naked eye or normally only under a microscope, look weird in the much-blown-up pictures here, and certainly the sparse text gives some interesting facts about each critter. The main point of the book, though, is to provide visual impact – with the 3-D glasses intended to accentuate the strangeness inherent in the photos. The underlying idea seems to be to get young readers interested in some science facts by presenting them in the punchiest possible visual form. But whether readers fascinated by the pictures will even bother to read the facts, much less absorb them, is by no means certain.