A Particularly ARGish Summer Reading List

pileofbooksThe idea of cross-media convergence is anything but a new concept. In the introduction to Rethinking Media Change, media studies scholar Henry Jenkins noted that in the 11th century, the Bayeux tapestry “combined both text and images, and was explicated in spoken sermons–a multi-media bridge between the oral culture of the peasants and the learned culture of the monasteries.” Many novelists are rediscovering the joys of crafting stories that go beyond the book in some form.

Back in December, Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo predicted that “[i]n the future and especially in 2009, the books that are popular will be much more interactive between the reader and the book.” Her theory will be tested over the next few months, as a plethora of cross-media books are hitting local retailers near you. If you’re interested in exploring a potential future for the publishing industry, here are a few recommendations of books that use cross-media elements to enrich the narrative.

Cathy’s Ring, by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman

On May 4, Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart released the third and final book in a series of cross-media novels about an ordinary teenaged girl and her not-so-ordinary boyfriend. Each book comes with an evidence packet that continues the story through a series of clues that the novel’s protagonist encountered, in addition to intricate doodles in the margins. Some clues add depth to the story, while others forshadow the shocking revelations in future books. The first book in the series came under fire from consumer activists for its cross-promotional arrangement with Cover Girl.

Personal Effects: Dark Art, by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman

Coming out on June 9, Personal Effects: Dark Art is taking cross-media to a new level. Like Cathy’s Ring, the book includes an evidence packet that extends the narrative through a series of clues. One of the characters in the novel, Rachael Webster, has been actively blogging for over six months, and recently landed a column on the Suicide Girls website as a cross-promotional effort. JC Hutchins is promoting the release of the hardcover novel by offering a podcast novel prequel, Personal Effects: Sword of Blood, for free on his website.

39 Clues: Beyond the Grave, by Jude Watson

On June 2, the fourth book in the 39 Clues series was released by Scholastic, Inc. The 10 book series follows the adventures of Dan and Amy Cahill as they compete with family members to uncover the secret of their family’s power. Each book is written by a different author, leading Time Magazine to refer to the series as “some lab-grown genetically engineered lifeform.” Websites, collectible trading cards, and the novels themselves propel readers through the mystery. Many libraries are capitalizing on the popularity of the series by creating 39 Clues Clubs that introduce chidren to the library and bring to bear the power of collective intelligence.

Other Books Worth Noting
In addition to their involvement with both Personal Effects: Dark Art and Cathy’s Ring, Smith and Tinker will be unveiling two new cross-media series: Nanovor and Lost Souls. The former will be supplemented by a video game and animated web series, while the latter will include a board game component.

And in case you’re interested in the underlying theories behind many of these projects, be sure to check out Pervasive Games: Theory and Design, due out on July 3. The authors have created a blog to continue the conversation past the publication date. Authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt have continued to update their Freakonomics blog four years after the novel’s publication date.

This list focuses on cross-media books coming out in the summer months. However, feel free to leave a comment if you have any other recommendations for books of an ARGish nature, regardless of publication date.


  1. thistle12

    Why not include Walter John Williams’s recent novel, This Is Not a Game, whose protagonist is an ARG designer/puppetmaster? There are ARG and flashmob references in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, too, but Williams’s novel places ARGs centrally. It’s interesting as fictionalized commentary.

  2. PinkCloud

    thanks for those awesome crossmedia & book tips!
    for those not online due to some extensive beach vacation or camping or problems with one of the major telephone companies (here!), I would like to put these books on the list as well:
    – This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams
    – The Magus by John Fowles
    enjoy! 🙂

  3. Michael Andersen

    For the sake of my sanity, I attempted to limit my discussion to books coming out over the summer that included cross-media elements rather than books discussing them. However, I loved Little Brother, and I’m currently waiting to get a hold of This Is Not A Game (the Novel).

    Haven’t heard of “The Magus” before…I’ll have to look into it.

  4. Kilkenny

    I just discovered TINAG by Jon William which has led me to searching the web fr more info about ARGs, total newbie but utterly enthralled by ARGs, how did I not know of the existance before now.
    FYI the book TINAG is awesome.