Readersforum's Blog

June 14, 2012

War and Peace ebook readers find a surprise in its Nooks

Between the lines … a reader with a Barnes & Noble Nook. Photograph: Richard Levine/Alamy

A ‘search and replace’ by Barnes & Noble switched every mention of ‘kindle’ with the name of the company’s ereader, ‘Nook’.

By Hermione Hoby

From one small corner of the internet this week comes a tale of an ebook glitch so deliciously absurd I’ve had to keep reminding myself that it is, in fact, true.

A few days ago a blogger who identifies himself as just “Philip” took to his site to recount his experience of reading War and Peace – specifically, a 99¢ version as sold through Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. A contextually important reminder: the Nook is Barnes and Noble’s answer to Amazon’s Kindle and the two devices have invariably been pitted against each other in a kind of ereader war.

When, however, Philip came across the line, “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern”, the Kindle/Nook rivalry wasn’t foremost in his mind. Instead, he thought he’d just stumbled on an unorthodox verb-translation or some other minor textual hiccup. It was only when that rogue “Nookd” struck again that he realised, via the text’s search function, that every instance of the word “kindle” or “kindle” had, in fact, been changed to “Nook” and “Nookd”.

Which means Tolstoy has been subjected to indignities – and absurdities – such as this: “When the flame of the sulphur splinters Nookd by the timber burned up, first blue and then red, Shcherbinin lit the tallow candle…”

Our blogger writes: “I was shocked. Almost immediately I found it hilarious … then outrageous … then both.”

Was this an instance of egregious, not-so-subliminal advertising on the part of the Nook’s marketing department? It really does seem like the sort of satirical, absurdist flourish that David Foster Wallace might have dreamed up: a kind of product-placement as anachronistic and sacrilegious as CGI-ing iPhones into the hands of Tarkovsky characters. But the truth is both more prosaic and more funny.

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August 17, 2011

The E-Reader of Sand: The Kindle and the Inner Conflict Between Consumer and Booklover

By Mark O’Connell

“I can show you a sacred book that might interest a man such as yourself” – Jorge Luis Borges, “The Book of Sand”


Like many people who love to read, I exist in a paradoxical state of having both far too many books and far too few. I probably don’t have many more than the average literature lover of my age, but I live in a smallish apartment, and it often feels hazardously, almost maniacally overcrowded with books. A precarious obelisk of partially read paperbacks rises from my bedside table, coated in a thin film of dust. My shelves are all two rows deep, stuffed with a Tetris-like emphasis on space-optimization, and pretty much every horizontal surface holds some or other type of reading material. I haven’t read nearly all of these books (many of them I haven’t even made a serious attempt to get started on) but that doesn’t stop me from accumulating more at a rate that neither my income nor my living space can reasonably be expected to sustain.

This is, on occasion, a source of mild tension between my wife and me. She’s a reader too, and likes having a lot of books about the place, but she also likes to have space for all those other objects that you need to have around if you want your home to look like a home, and not a drastically mismanaged second-hand bookshop. Every time I come through the door with a couple of new purchases, or carefully rip open a padded envelope from Amazon, I can’t help being aware that I am engaging in a small act of domestic colonization, claiming another few cubic inches in the name of the printed page, in the struggle of Lesensraum against Lebensraum.

The situation has been deteriorating for years now and, up until very recently, wasn’t showing any signs of potential resolution. Then a friend gave me a gift of a Kindle, slyly mentioning that he was doing so, at least in part, as a benevolent intervention into my shelf space situation. I’m not sure I would necessarily have chosen to buy an e-reader myself. I am more or less your typical bibliophile, in that I have always loved books almost as much for their physical properties as for their intellectual ones. I like the way a well-made paperback flops open in the hand, the briskly authoritative slap of its pages as it closes. I enjoy the feel of a hardback, its solidity and self-enclosure, its sober weight, the whispering creak of its stretching spine. I like the way they smell, too: the slightly chemical tang of new books and the soft, woody scent of old ones. (If you’re picturing me crouched in a corner of your local bookstore like some sort of mental case, a Library of America edition of Pale Fire pressed to my face, you can stop right there: it’s an incidental pleasure, not something I pursue with any kind of monomaniacal intensity).

My point is that I, like a lot of other people, enjoy books as objects. Despite the difficulties that can arise from their accumulation, I like that they occupy physical as well as mental space. In fact, I quietly entertained the futile hope that the whole idea of e-books and e-readers would prove to be a transitory fad, that everyone would just somehow forget that books were cumbersome and comparatively expensive to produce and not especially good for the environment and that they could very easily be replaced by small clusters of electronic data that could be beamed across the world in seconds without ever taking up any actual space. I did not want what happened to CDs to happen to books. But then I took this small, smoothly utilitarian rectangle of grey plastic out of its box and fired it up. Within minutes, I was beginning to understand its crazy potential. In no time at all, I had downloaded a small library of free, out-of copyright classics. There is, obviously, something to be said for being able to walk around with the complete works of Tolstoy on your person at all times without fear of collapsed vertebrae or public ridicule. There is also, just as obviously, something to be said for having immediate access to a vast, intangible warehouse of books from which you can choose, on a whim, to purchase anything and begin reading it straight away. It occurred to me that Borges would have been thrilled and horrified in equal measure by the Kindle. In fact, in a weird way, he sort of invented it (in the same way that Leonardo “invented” the helicopter and various other gadgets).

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