The lights are slowly coming on around the state of New Jersey, despite the midweek setback caused by the Nor’easter. The weather turned colder, and those without power suffered even more. Some, seeing a small silver lining, pointed out that it was at least cold enough to put some fresh food outdoors when refrigeration was lacking. The tree removal crews and power and telephone linemen kept working through the bad weather, and progress is being made. For many, though, who have lost so much, it’s going to be a long winter. Please don’t forget them.
I mentioned last week that I was grateful for many things, and our family did not suffer as much as others. We had water and heat, if not light or refrigeration until yesterday. Our polling place was open on Tuesday, so we could vote as normal. Today the phone returned, and the internet is promised by Monday. We owe a lot of gratitude to so many workers who came from far away to help. I had the opportunity one night last week to thank some workers from Ohio at a local diner. I hope everyone who has a similar encounter takes the time to say, "Thank You"; they are working long hours far from home and need to know we appreciate it.
Enough about the aftermath of the storm. I want to say a few words about another of my perennial topics, the electronic book. The lack of light, combined with a shortage of copies of the book our reading group had chosen for November, caused me to actually read an entire novel on my iPad. I have said before that I don’t believe that e-books will ever replace paper books, and I discovered another drawback that reinforces my opinion.
The book we chose, Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow, was published in 2005. I do not know if it was initially available as an e-book, but I now suspect that at least the version I read was created after the fact. As I read, I became distracted by the number of typographical errors in the text. There was a lot of missing punctuation, especially periods. Words were gibberish, or so it seemed at first. My reading experience was constantly interrupted by the necessity of figuring out where sentences ended and what the incomprehensible words might be.
I decided to try out the highlighting and note-taking capabilities of the device, mostly out of irritation and to compare them to a hard-copy text when it was available. As I continued, I began to see a pattern. The letter “d” was frequently displayed as “cl”; the word “nun” became “mm.” This is in a book by a best-selling author and from a major publishing house, not some self-created effort I had picked up from Amazon!
I don’t know much about the technology of creating electronic books, but I suspect that this one was created from the original text using Optical Character Recognition, which seems to be as accurate as voice recognition technology. Although it didn’t take a great deal of mental effort to correct the thought in “The German troops were in the woods singing Christmas carols, the voices traveling clown to us on the wind,” the mood was certainly disrupted and the author’s emotional flow vanished. It took a bit more thought, in a description of creating makeshift litters to carry the wounded, to translate “We formed litters by tying each man’s belt tinder his arms…” and the giggle that erupted from me certainly broke the sense of horror the passage was meant to evoke.The sentence “As I dragged O’Brien along, the clog followed” on the next page just about killed any sensitivity I felt to the soldiers’ plight. The dog’s name was Hercules, and later we find him “deal,” having been too close to an explosion. So sad, once I realized he was gone.
I tend to be picky, a bit of a curmudgeon, about spelling, typos, and inaccurate use of words. I tried telling myself to ignore the errors, but the annoyance continued. The dreadfulness of battle seemed less awful when the men were “seared shitless” rather than scared, and the tenderness of a love scene where the narrator “savored the remarkable smoothness of her stomach and hack” left me exasperated, not captivated.
One of the joys of reading is being caught up in the mood the author has created. Distractions of any kind are frustrating to a booklover lost in another time or place. When the distractions are in the text, it is difficult even to get into that other place. Someone less prone to identifying errors might feel less frustration, but her attention would still be diverted by the need to determine what word was intended by the author.
I am not likely to use electronic devices for reading any more than is necessary. I appreciate that I was able to read more comfortably than with a flashlight or reading light while the power was out, and that I could adjust both the background (I like the sepia at night, not the night setting) and the intensity of the light. I know that when I travel, I will download some books as “backup” so that I don’t have to fill my suitcase with weighty tomes in fear of running out. But when there is a book that I anticipate savoring for the author’s ability to set a mood or dazzle me with exquisite prose, I’ll be carrying the paper version.