E-readers have become standard objects used by patrons of libraries – academic and public alike. There are a slew of devices with which one can read and listen to their electronic audio and text-based books. Interfaces vary, variations in digitizing touch-to-action exist and screens are different. Some, such as the Nook by Barnes and Noble Booksellers and the Kindle by Amazon, are marketed specifically as internet friendly readers. Then there is the mini-Ipad, the Kobo reader and different builds of hardware on the Android platform such as the Nexus. The Nook even has ‘apps’ designed to work on its platform – a hybrid of Android and proprietary software. Each of these readers and/or features is not unimportant. I could even bring up differences in tablet readers and e-ink devices. I won’t. I want to talk about differences in implementation of reader software. I want to look specifically at real differences in e-publication formats, how they change what reading is as an activity on an electronic device and how formats are tied to reader software. No, I’m not here to break down code or look at processing algorithms. Fascinating stuff of course. But that analysis goes elsewhere.
There are many formats in which to read publications electronically. There is HTML, EPUB, Kindle and PDF (and a few others for readers popular around the globe). PDF works with lots of reader software, though not all. Kindle, of course, works only within the Kindle device or reader app because it’s a proprietary code. EPUB is not. It will work with readers as far afield as the NOOK, any Android Device and readers such as Kobo or the one sold by Sony. There are lots of publishers who, in an effort to expand the range of creativity in reader choices, publish only in EPUB. It’s generally considered an “open-source” coding for text. There are differences, however, in implementation of use of EPUB or PDF – wherein we note the crux of this piece of writing.
EPUB is designed to work with many readers. But the way it works with different readers changes depending on the vender of the electronic item. For example, two popular reader software applications that are compatible with EPUB and PDF and have been used by public libraries in my area: the first is the most popular eBook vender, Overdrive (which is a vender and a reader application); the second is Bluefire (which is a reader only with built in links to online spots to buy books or to download public domain titles).
I currently read on a Google Nexus 7, touchscreen obviously (though I use my stylus to turn “pages” a lot) and I use both the OverDrive and BlueFire applications for EPUB and PDF texts. OverDrive is not as convenient a reader to use as Bluefire because it is tied to its connection firstly as a reader of books borrowed from the library. The application itself has a GET BOOKS tab through which books can be searched in libraries’ eBook collections. OverDrive works as a portal to the library’s catalog of eBooks. BlueFire is not as tethered. It operates as a third party option available to the reader to choose which reader to use if the option is allowed by the objects being considered or publisher controls etc. OverDrive does not list the actual format of the books in its library while Bluefire does – to the right of the title OverDrive just says eBook while Bluefire lists EPUB or PDF. The difference is no inherently wrong. Bluefire simply has slightly fuller metadata while OverDrive probably sees itself (just a guess here) as a reader use by the populace who (they think) don’t care about “technical” aspects of the text in front of their eyes.
The issue of metadata certainly marks a difference between these two readers. But it does not mark the most important distinction in my fBook (f for figurative 😉 ). The most important implementation variant between these two readers is the difference between content/quantity representation models in use – specifically the way in which each reader represents pagination in eBooks. OverDrive DOES NOT use page numbers – a fact which I believe to be problematic for reasons of making reference to books read, annotations made for future reference and ability to cite. In fact, this is an even more problematic feature of OverDrive because as more and more texts are being consumed in eFormat, if one’s ability to cite books for reference and scholarly purposes (professional or amateur researchers) is restricted, the reference to other books and facts built for new writing will be challenging. Bluefire does not have this issue. It lists the eBook as containing pages 1-whatever). OverDrive chooses instead to subdivide every section of the eBook into page sections that are counted as percentages.
For instance, instead of showing the first page of Chapter 3 of a book I am reading on Physics starting on page 40 as it does in the paper text, it represents this “page” as “Page 1 of 19” with Chapter Progress of 5.3% and whole book progress as 13%. The page number itself really means nothing in relation to the whole eBook and percentages have nothing to do with reading page-to-page. The lack of ability to cite this text – again, a feature tied to its use by the populace who OverDrive believes does not care to do reference work – is a major problem. But it’s also a contradictory stance because I bet the same popular reader is just as happy to be able to know what “page” they’re reading. I can’t imagine anyone really cares about what percentage of each chapter is finished within the overall book except as an arbitrary number to call out. These percentages smack of computer modeling and lack the granularity of real page counts. Bluefire does not have this problem. It has some of the same ability to jump from section to section by using a dropdown contents tab. But it makes reference to pagination within the overall structure of the content being read. This feature increases the granularity of the reading experience and makes citation possible with the use of as few marks as possible in the citation.
Thank you for your time. Take a look at different eReaders and don’t hesitate to reply here or at Twitter. I am always open for discussion and learning.
I recommend all readers dash over to Gently Read Literature and subscribe to the 2013 publication cycle so you can read my two review essays on Robert Day’s Where I am Now – Stories and Neil de la Flor’s An Elephant’s Memory of Blizzards.
The contents for the current issue can be found here.
Looking forward to the publication of two new book reviews in a literary magazine. Details will follow as the date of said publication draws nearer.
But for the time being, the two books in-process are:
Neil de La Flor’s An Elephant’s Memory of Blizzards.
Marsh Hawk Press, 2013. ISBN: 978098823560
Robert Day’s Where I am Now – Stories. BkMk Press – University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2012. ISBN: 9781886157828
Dr. Black’s Creative Empiricism – A Book Review
E.B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. Quirk Books. 2013. ISBN: 978159476161
E.B. Hudspeth has added something new to the world of mid-Atlantic & New England horror/dark fantasy with The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. He does this by taking the world of art, the world of Edgar Allen Poe and creates an amalgamation with some of the darkest stuff from H.P. Lovecraft. This is not to say The Resurrectionist is derivative of either Poe or Lovecraft. But where some advertising for the book talks about Poe, the book actually exhibits a more subtle reference to ole’ Edgar combined with a heavier reliance upon Lovecraft.
My review copy is incomplete unfortunately. It is an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) – a galley copy in paperback missing art from some sections. The text is present as well as all organization segments making the book what it will be in the final hardcover publication format. The importance of the missing pages relates to the suggestion in the narration of the importance of the creature, Harpy Erinyes – a female human-like being with bird like legs and large wings – to Dr. Spencer Black, the genius doctor with skills in studying mysterious beings and elaborate surgical procedures. Without these images, one loses a sense of the attention paid this particular creature. Hey, but maybe these missing pages become part of the real “lost work.”
The Resurrectionist is, in part, a biography of Dr. Spencer Black, born in Boston, Mass in 1851 as well as a “lost” work containing detailed genus/species style drawings in which are exhibited deconstructed views of vanished beings no longer commonly seen in the world. This collision of art and storytelling is not new to dark fantasy. I think about Lovecraft’s innovative story, “Pickman’s Model,” a yarn of some darkness about a man who found in the bowels of an old city unseen mysterious inspiration for macabre paintings. There are no images in Lovecraft’s story. But one yearns to see them. In this work, Hudspeth (himself an artist) includes lots of drawings of creatures such as Minotaurus Asterion, Satyrus Hircinus, Siren Oceanus and afore mentioned Harpy Erinyes. The allusion here is not to inspiration. Inspiration comes through in other creative ways in the novel. Rather, the drawings allude to another even older form of scientific art – Dr. Henry Gray’s drawings in his famous anatomy book from 1918 – and also coincidentally published in Pennsylvania. The images are integral to the work. Each one will be present in the final edition.
On the subject of scientific art, it is here where Lovecraft’s influence is most felt through the work. Not art as in images, but the art of dedicating oneself to finding out the “truth.” A large current running through Lovecraft’s work is the type of story in which a main character becomes intrigued to find out something seen or heard and then follows each possible clue until that thing is found. The problem with this choice for nearly every character whose narrative conforms to this story structure is the characters end up locked away or doing their very best to dissuade anyone else from following in their footsteps. They become traumatized. Nearly 100 years earlier (1818), Mary Shelley structured Frankenstein similarly. Dr. Spencer Black is a young doctor with tons of adoration and respect when he begins his tenure at the Academy of Medicine. He performs surgeries and wrote well-received papers on the medical questions of his day – 1870s Philadelphia. Dr. Black is well respected and well paid.
All this changes as he turns more of his energy to figuring out the anatomy of all these mythical beings he is sure exist. And of course, as a scientist, empiricism must reign in his methods. The core of the book and the real Lovecraftian influence is felt through as Dr. Spencer Black’s “methods” are explored by E.B. Hudspeth.
The book is dominated by a detached tone. As if he is writing a history. The sections are even segmented by years, e.g., 1869: The Academy of Medicine or 1878: The Fawn-Child. This reserved style adds a lot to the text. Especially in contrast to the fantastical art and the nearly unbelievable way in which Dr. Black swerves his life away from love and peace. The art, as stated above, is stylized after Dr. Henry Gray. But the subject matter…well…therein is the book’s core and play. I have looked through Gray’s Anatomy and have seen none of Dr. Black’s images in those pages.
I recommend it.
PS: A copy of this review has also been published at LibraryThing.