June 18, 2009

Reading Dickens in Multiple Formats

From Ann Kirschner:

I decided to read Little Dorrit four ways: paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone.

It was often maddening to keep finding and losing my place as I switched from format to format. But as an experiment, it taught me a great deal about my reading habits, and about how a text reveals itself differently as the reading context changes. Along the way, I also began to make some predictions about winners and losers in the evolution of books.

Little Dorrit was an accidental choice, but I could hardly have done better. Its length, multiple story lines, 19th-century allusions, and teeming cast of characters helped me to test the functionality of different formats. Beyond the artifice of my reading experiment, though, please don't think that technology compromised my ability to appreciate this beloved novel, written in 1857 at the height of Dickens's power and popularity. Just the opposite.

I started with the paperback, reading in bed. "Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun. ..." As soon as I opened the book, there I was, encountering my name and my own marginal notations — "Sunshine that illuminates or blinds?" — from decades ago. That and the $2.45 price marked on the back made me more than a little nostalgic about my graduate-school days, when I first fell in love with the Victorian novel. In a book about how the present is haunted by the past, I was confronting my old self through the medium of the physical book, still in great condition, still fitting perfectly in my hands. How dare we think that anything could replace it? Impossible to imagine that any of these newfangled devices could last nearly 40 years. The perfume of old paper filled the air.

I could've stopped there.

...and Alan Jacobs:

It’s been about ten years since I’ve read Middlemarch — one of the two greatest English novels, the other being Bleak House, if you want to know — which means that it’s time to re-read it. All I had to do was decide what the delivery vehicle would be.

  • I have a Penguin Classics paperback, with a nice font and good notes.

  • I have a recent Everyman’s Library edition, which seems to be photo-offset from an old two-volume edition. Nice hard covers and a silk bookmark.

  • I have an old Oxford World’s Classics hardcover — small (4x6 inches) and blue, with very slightly yellowed pages — I picked up in Hay-on-Wye some years ago.

  • I had a Project Gutenberg version on my Kindle until I lost my Kindle, but I still have it available on my iPhone. (I could use the Kindle iPhone app or Stanza.)

  • And I could read it on my laptop, say with the Gutenberg text and Readability.

    This was actually an easy call for me. Want to guess which one I chose?

    CowPi said...

    I had not heard of Readability before. What a great little web application! Thanks.

    TS said...

    The only negative is that Readability doesn't seem to work on IE, although I recognize none of us should be using software from the Evil Empire. :-)