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Data visualizations aid in the pragmatics of our everyday lives: navigating the subway, estimating expenses, keeping track of energy use. Visuals-centric book publishers Visual Editions has brought them to bear in the literary realm as well. With its release of Where You Are, a collection of 16 writings accompanied by 16 maps, VE augments how readers experience the textual narratives by including visual narratives as well.
For another layer of depth, Where You Are is available both off and online, with the help of web designers The Workers. The online version allows viewers to see in real time how many other users are reading a specific piece and to literally see where they are in Where You Are.
“We like to think of the site as an elongated version of the printed book, giving readers something they couldn’t experience with the printed book,” Visual Editions cofounders Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen told Visually in an email. “Whereas the printed book is an intimate, tactile treasure trove, the site brings a social and playful experience, showing where other people have come from, where they are in Where You Are.”
Each platform has its own corresponding visual on the same stories. Both online and off, the fiction and nonfiction pieces pair with a wide variety of maps–broadly speaking–some real and others artistic renderings of narrative routes. The authors use these “maps” to illustrate their texts and to guide readers on an adventure.
Peter Turchi uses the infinite scroll (in multiple directions) for a modern take on Choose Your Own adventure in “Roads Not Taken Life as a series of What Ifs. Valeria Luiselli illuminates vignettes of trips with her daughter to parks around Harlem with Polaroid images imposed on a satellite map.
For “Tablescapes,” Leanne Shapton photographed and painted what her desk looked like at the end of emails to a friend. The illustrations shed light not only on her desk, but on her life. To explore the joint and conflicting memories of a group of boys, Denis Wood‘s “The Paper Route Empire” shows each of their conceptions of their paper routes.
Visualizations like these allow the reader to jump back and forth between the text and its map for added background and dimensions. Think, for a basic example, of a supercharged family tree, available at the beginning of certain novels that help readers decipher familial relationships.
Additionally, the presentation of these works, both in print and online, cause readers to rethink the linear narrative of most texts. Instead, readers/viewers can approach the stories in any order or from the visualization to the text, and vice versa. The experience is more playful and immersive than reading something front to back.
“The starting point for Where You Are is maps,” the Visual Editions founders told us. “How maps are changing. How we’re using maps in different ways. How maps are becoming less about how to get from one place to another and more about how we make personal maps every day. We were talking to one of the contributors the other day who said, ‘the great thing is there are really only a couple “real” maps in the book.’ Which made us smile, because yes, in a lot of ways this is true and the clearest sign of all that maps all around us are changing beyond recognition. So it’s less about data visualization in the traditional sense and more about the breadth of personal information and personal stories we map.”
Rani Molla has a digital media master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School and is the editorial producer at Gigaom. She’s a journalism reader, writer, photographer, videographer, data visualizer and general doer. Follow her on Twitter.