Superbooks

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Definition

Superbook is my term for a broad, fuzzy, subjective category of books that use various techniques to add dimensions to their parent genre or format, preferably in dynamic, imaginative ways. In this article I'll list examples and techniques, and hopefully over time I can refine and crystallize my definition.

The word superbook has been used for a lot of other things already, so I might try to find another term, but that's what I have for now.

Normal books

When defining something, it's helpful to contrast it with other, similar things. Here are some qualities of books I'd think of as normal, which can serve as a baseline for noticing the traits of works that might be superbooks. Think of a typical novel, and you'll see what I have in mind as a normal book.

  • Textual - It might help to define the baseline narrowly, so I'm going to say a normal book contains only text.
  • Flat - The normal book is bound in traditional codex form with flat, thin, single-layer pages you can easily turn.
  • Linear - This prototype of a normal book relates its contents as a single train of thought that runs straightforwardly from the book's beginning to its end.
  • Self-contained - A normal book is primarily concerned with its stated topic, whether that's the events of an invented story or an analysis of real-world affairs, and it pipes content directly from the author to the readers. "Self-contained" in this sense isn't the same as standalone, so a normal book can be part of a series.
  • Static - Once it's packaged as a book and delivered to the reader, the content doesn't change. It can have new editions, but each edition stays the same.

To count as a superbook it's not enough to vary from only one of these qualities; you'd need to depart from this list in particular ways, probably complex ones. But the list gives me some guidelines for thinking about the differences.

Effects

I primarily recognize superbooks by their effects on me. I'll touch on these in the three areas of thoughts, feelings, and actions. I feel a sense of wonder, curiosity, and excitement. I think about the possible ideas and scenarios the book's content suggests. And I act to explore the possibilities in ways beyond simply running my eyes down each page and flipping to the next one.

There's a sense in which any book could act as a superbook if it has these effects on someone, even the most conventional of novels or the driest of reference manuals. It's important to know that you can find inspiration in surprising places. It keeps your eyes open and keeps you exploring to find it.

But in the interests of defining a category of books that tend to inspire me in particular ways, I don't want to make the category too broad, so I wouldn't solely rely on these effects to define it. Superbooks produce these effects because they have certain physical, conceptual, or stylistic features.

Examples

Since I'm working out the superbook category by feel, I might remove some of these examples in the future because my sense of the category has shifted away from them. Within the category I find that some types of books are closer to the center of my idea for it, and others are closer to the edges because they embody the idea less fully.

Works

This section is for miscellaneous examples. I ended up finding categories for the ones I put here originally.

Genres and formats

A genre or format of superbooks adds a dimension to others it emerges from or could be compared to. Some of these are categories rather than recognized genres or formats.

Gamebooks

Puzzle books

  • Maze

Creativity prompts

These are books that are specifically meant to spark the reader's imagination and motivate them to create content of some kind.

Writing prompts

Some of books of writing prompts are written for professional writers, and others are meant for children or casual writers. In either case their purpose is to exercise the imagination, hone writing skills, or help the reader move past writer's block.

  • Harris Burdick
Doodle books

This kind of book has been around for decades, but the genre doesn't seem to have a common name. I'm using the name of one author's series. The general idea is that each page contains part of a drawing, and the reader is supposed to complete it creatively.

Experimental fiction

Epistolary novels
Metafiction

Metafiction is a set of techniques a work of fiction uses to call attention to the fact that it's a work of fiction. A common example is breaking the fourth wall, where a character in the work speaks directly to the audience. For me these techniques put metafiction into the superbook category because breaking fiction's conventions draws my attention to them, changes my perspective, and opens conceptual doors. It makes me wonder what other hidden features fiction has and how else we could play with them to reveal other ideas and depths of meaning. It makes me feel that the book is special and magical, that there's more happening there than in a normal book.

  • Animated Thumbtack

Movable books

Movable book is an umbrella term library catalogers use that covers a range of formats. Some of these are closer to the center of my superbook idea than others. The overall idea is that movable books depart from the flatness feature of normal books. Their pages are structured or bound differently, or they have parts other than normal pages that the reader can interact with.

Split page books
  • Graham Oakley
Vinyl sticker books

Interactive ebooks

Boundary cases

I'm not sure if these examples fit my idea of a superbook.

Pop-up books

Graphic novels

Flip books

Enhanced print books

Activity books

Picture books

Study guides

Techniques

  • Reader participation - invite the reader to complete or enhance their content.