The Book Thief – Commentary

My project is based on the novel The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I decided to create a website which explores different elements of the book, such as: the characters, places and notable quotes. I coded the website because it gave me greater control over the look, and content, of the website compared to using a tool such as WordPress.

One of the main things I wanted to include in my website was interactive elements. This was important because ‘it is not enough to simply echo paper’s capabilities’[1] and interactivity is one of the main ways to go beyond what is possible in print. Also, ‘increased level of interactivity on a Web site [has] positive effects on user’s perceived satisfaction, effectiveness, efficiency, value, and overall attitude towards a Web site.’[2]

This additional interactivity would also mean changing the mode of engagement. According to Linda Hutcheon there are three different modes of engagement: ‘the telling mode (a novel) immerses us through imagination in a fictional world; the showing mode (plays and films) immerses us through the perception of the aural and the visual […]; the participatory mode (video games) immerses us physically and kinesthetically.’[3] By adding in interactive elements, users engage with the website through the participatory mode, although not to the same extent as with a video game. Ideally, the website would be even more interactive, thus immersing the user more fully in the world, and the story.

Even so, coding the website from scratch meant I was able to create and incorporate the interactive elements I did include, without having to fit into an existing system. For example, I created an interactive map of the places in the book because ‘[m]aps […] allow the user to explore their subjects in ways impossible in print.’[4] However, creating this map would probably have been more difficult if I wasn’t working from a blank frame but instead was trying to fight against existing code from WordPress.

A similar problem is likely to have occurred when I made the interactive timeline on my website, which needed a lot of specific HTML and CSS in order to work. I added in this timeline to allow the users of the website to experience The Book Thief in different ways. The timeline presented the events of the novel in a straight-forward, chronological retelling, with only the most important events covered, thus missing a lot of the finer detail.

In contrast to this, the novel can also be explored through quotes taken from the novel. Once again, these are listed in chronological order, but they do not necessarily cover the important events, but rather the important ideas and most memorable sections. This means you are less likely to know what happens in the actual story but instead can explore the most poignant moments. The quotes are also sortable by the topic of the quote, thus making it possible to explore the most memorable points in novel about single theme.

In addition to presenting the existing story in multiple ways, I also expanded on it, which is part of a phenomenon known as transfictionality. Transfictionality ‘consists of producing and posting texts that complete, modify, or stretch in time the worlds of preexisting literary texts, or that transpose their plots and characters into new environments.’[5] For this project I created ten letters which are supposed to be written after the main events in the book. I chose to write letters because they are a literary device already used in the novel, and because they are ‘able to describe different point of views’[6] while still staying in the timeframe of the book, which is something a blog or social media accounts would not be able to accomplish. I didn’t want to change the timeframe of the book because the events that take place are grounded in the fact that it’s set during World War Two. If I were to change the time the book takes place in then this would be transposition, which ‘transports the plot of a story to a different historical or geographical setting’.[7]

One of the main things I would do to improve my website is to add in audio and video content, which is something my project lacks. This could be achievable by creating short videos about each chapter, or perhaps adding audio and video files into the interactive timeline to break up the text. This would be an improvement because it would be able to give users another way to experience the novel as well as targeting people who learn differently. Auditory learners ‘learn best by listening since they remember when they hear things’[8] and ‘videos are a great learning tool for visual learners’[9] as well. While this website is not aimed specifically as a learning tool, being able to target these different learning styles means the users have a variety of ways to use the website, and are able to experience it through their preferred medium.

[1] Marshall, Catherine C. ‘Reading and interactivity in the digital library: Creating an experience that transcends paper.’ Proceedings of CLIR/Kanazawa Institute of Technology Roundtable: Citeseer; 2005.

[2] Teo, Hock-Hai, Oh, Lih-Bin, Liu, Chunhui and Wei, Kwok-Kee ‘An empirical study of the effects of interactivity on web user attitude’. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 58(3), pp. 281–305, 2003. [online] Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1071581903000089 [Accessed 5 May 2016]

[3] Hutcheon, Linda A theory of adaptation, New York, Taylor & Francis, 2004. pp.22-23

[4] O’Donnell, Daniel Paul ‘Disciplinary Impact and Technological Obsolescence in Digital Medieval Studies’ Schreibman, S. and Siemens, R. (eds.). A companion to digital literary studies 2008. [online] Available from: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companionDLS/  [Accessed 5 May 2016]

[5] Ryan, Marie-Laure ‘Fictional Worlds in the Digital Age’ Schreibman, S. and Siemens, R. (eds.). A companion to digital literary studies 2008. [online] Available from: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companionDLS/  [Accessed 5 May 2016]

[6] admin ‘Epistolary – examples and definition of Epistolary’, 2015. [online] Available from: http://literarydevices.net/epistolary/ [Accessed 5 May 2016]

[7] Ryan, Marie-Laure ‘Possible worlds – the living handbook of narratology’. Interdisciplinary Center for Narratology, University of Hamburg, 2012 [online] Available from: http://wikis.sub.uni-hamburg.de/lhn/index.php/Possible_Worlds [Accessed 6 May 2016]

[8] Admin ‘Visual, Auditory and kinesthetic/tactile learning styles – red river college – applied learning – distance education – continuing education’, undated. [online] Available from: http://www.rrc.ca/index.php?pid=7666 [Accessed 6 May 2016]

[9] Sumner, Elizabeth ‘3 types of learners: Which One are you?’ 2014 [online] Available from: http://www.wgu.edu/blogpost/3-types-learners-which-one-are-you [Accessed 6 May 2016]