Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Planted: ebook typos

It feels like I've been reading Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life for months now.  I really am enjoying it, but January was a bit of an odd month for me reading-wise and I recently had a snag that delayed my reading of it for a few days. Here's the story.

Last weekend my partner and I went out of town for the weekend to celebrate our ten year anniversary.  I took along my Kobo, hoping to get some reading in and at least finish The General section of the book.

The copy I was reading was one I downloaded from my public library.  I knew the due date was approaching, but assumed I'd be able to read it past the due date, just like I can still listen to overdue audio books as long as I don't sync my ipod with my computer (not that I make a regular practice out of such shifty behavior, mind you).  I thought I'd be safe as long as I didn't sync my Kobo.  I was wrong.

On Saturday night I was all ready to curl up in front of the fireplace in the cabin we rented and read a bit, but when I clicked on Washington I got a most unwelcome message, a message notifying me that the content was locked.  Damn technology.  It made me laugh; I did it to myself after all. I tried reading something else, but nothing really grabbed me because I had my heart set on George Washington.  I'd left him at Valley Forge in the winter of 1778 and was anxious to get back to the, um, action.
"To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes ... without a house or hut to cover them until those could be built, and submitting without a murmur, is a proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarcely be paralleled."
-George Washington at Valley Forge,
April 21, 1778

I didn't have my laptop with me to renew the ebook and when I got home on Monday I had to get back into the queue of people who've placed holds on the ebook.  Turns out I am number nine of nine, which meant I'd be waiting months.  Eek.

Next I checked online for the actual book and lo-and-behold the hard-copy of the book was actually on the shelf!  The library was already closed for the night, so I tried to reserve it online.  Fail.  Because I had a hold on the ebook, the system wouldn't allow me to place a hold on the hard-copy of the book as well.

So, the next morning I headed off to work and then called the library after they opened and asked the librarian if she'd please put the book on hold for me. Sure, no problem, she said.  Great, thanks!

My plan was to head straight to the library when I got off at 3pm, but I live in the Chicago area and at 2pm the snow of the predicted blizzard had started falling and the wind was already strong.  Instant blizzard.

I called the library to see if they were closing early and, alas, they were already closed and left a message saying they'd be closed on Wednesday due to the blizzard.  Grrr.

Knowing that I probably wouldn't be able to get to work on Wednesday made me want the book even more.  Anyway, my normal 15-20 min commute took about 80 min (and it would have been a lot longer if I'd left work much later than 3, so I'm not complaining).  On this slow drive home I resolved to suck it up and purchase the ebook.

Eventually I made it home and, with the lights flickering & threatening a power outage, downloaded the ebook.  I crossed my fingers and thought it would be rather funny if the power went out just as I was trying to purchase the ebook (especially considering I work at a bookstore and could have simply bought the book there!).  But the power held out and thankfully we didn't lose it during the storm unlike the 80,000 or so people in the Chicago area that did.

Snow day! 
So, I got to read more about George as General last night while the twenty inches of snow came down.  What's surprising is that there are some glaring typos in this version of the ebook, which is in ePub format (downloaded from Borders).  The first version that I had been reading, the library version, was in Adobe digital editions format.  I didn't notice any typos in that one.  Not that I'm an eagle eye for that sort of thing, but this version that I purchased has some very noticeable typos and one whopper so far.  Part II in this version is presented as "The Planted" rather than "The Planter."  It made me laugh, but--wow--that's pretty glaring.  Other typos are things like a year missing a number (178 instead of 1778).  The type spacing is nicer in this version, though: it fills the span of the screen and is easier on the eyes.

This difference in ebook quality of the same ebook is making me a bit curious about the production of ebooks and its also triggering a fear of mine:  how do I know the ebook version is the same as the actual book?  How easy is it to manipulate etexts, whether by accident or maliciously?  How do you know an ebook is as the author intended?  After all, how easy was it to print a version of Huck Finn without the N-word?  Just do a search and replace.  That's it.  I am reading Washington: A Life in ebook format for the convenience. Its easier to tuck my little Kobo into a bag/purse rather than a 900+ page book.  But I'm still skeptical about ebooks as a trustworthy format.

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