Richard Mason is sitting outside the closet-sized New York City café he goes to nearly every morning. In front of the best-selling novelist are two versions of his acclaimed manuscript History of a Pleasure Seeker, a coming-of-age tale set in Europe’s Belle Epoque. One is the bright-blue leather-bound notebook in which he wrote the story in longhand, and the other is the same book on the iPad platform Mason has helped create. Though difficult to describe unless this sentence starts to sing or unveil photographs with the tap of a finger, his app—or “e-lumination,” as he calls it—feels as if it’s at the forefront of a new literary medium, turning a tome into a movie, a concert and an encyclopedia all in one.
Mason spent two years developing the platform with his partner, Benjamin Morse, and a team of coders, designers and researchers. Besides being able to listen to the text (read by Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens), the app, ahem, e-lumination, allows readers to view the setting through photos, read the historical context of a plot point and hear the music described in a scene. He was so meticulous about detail that he hired musicians, like opera star Alex Richardson, to make fresh recordings. “I thought a lot about what’s the key pleasure of reading,” Mason says, “and I think it’s the joy that comes with using your imagination in collaboration with the author’s and creating an experience that is wholly your own.” His illuminated manuscript, the first of many, does just that.
History of a Pleasure Seeker is available on the iPad; apple.com. The first 100 Platinum Card members to purchase the e-lumination will receive a signed copy of Mason’s Natural Elements (Knopf).