Friday Bookblogging: Fresh Meat Edition

Standard

We just heard that Amanda Grange’s latest Austen hero retelling, Edmund Bertram’s Diary, will be released on November 30, though Amazon UK claims to be shipping it; you can save a few pounds (not to mention postage and packing) if you order directly from Robert Hale. For the more patient in North America, Berkeley will be publishing a paperback version next year, along with Captain Wentworth’s Diary, though we don’t have dates on those yet. We are told a copy of His Lordship of W’ville’s diary is on its way to AustenBlog World Headquarters, so expect a review soon. (Up next…Colonel Brandon’s Diary, which we are told contains “Frustrated elopements, affairs, divorce, consumption, illegitimate children, a duel” and other good stuff! Who knew Jane Austen wrote melodrama? 😉 Just as backstory, of course.)

It also has been whispered in our shell-pink ear that Berkeley will be publishing a paperback edition of The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street, long considered the Holy Grail of Jane Austen paraliterature, next March. Team Darcy is no doubt dancing in the streets in anticipation.

Mr. Knightley’s Diary is of course available from Berkeley now, as well as e-book editions for Mobipocket, eReader, MS Reader, Adobe, and even a Kindle edition.

Some may be asking, “What’s a Kindle edition?” The Kindle is a new e-book reading device that was launched with great fanfare by Amazon this week. The device, and the Kindle edition e-books that work on it, are only sold by Amazon.com. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said he wanted to make the iPod of e-book readers, and we don’t think he quite succeeded, but he might have come really close. The really new and interesting thing about the Kindle is that it contains a wireless radio so that users can purchase and download books without using their computer. The book will be downloaded directly to the Kindle. The books are competitively priced (a bone of contention among e-book readers; usually prices for e-book editions of hardback books are about the same as the paper copy) at $9.99 for New York Times bestsellers and less for many older books. We think the main selling point of the Kindle is the eInk screen, which is not backlit like a PDA or computer monitor and is the closest electronic imitation of paper that is available right now. The Sony Reader also has an eInk screen, as do the Bookeen Cybook Gen3 and the iRex iLiad. Just about any PDA or smartphone (including Palm, PocketPC, and BlackBerry devices, and we believe iPhones can handle ebooks after a fashion) can be used as ebook readers, as can any computer, and while we love the portability of carrying dozens of books on our Treo, we find that our eyes grow tired after a while of reading on a backlit screen, especially as we spend a lot of time using a PC.

One of the selling points of the Kindle was the availability of more than 90,000 books on launch, and we were pleased to see Jane Austen well-represented, including her own books as well as various paraliterature titles. Also, the Kindle can use unencrypted Mobipocket, HTML, and text documents, so it is possible to use the free versions of Jane Austen’s novels at Project Gutenberg or manybooks.net. This also is true for just about every e-book reader available. The article in Newsweek touting the launch of the Kindle even mentions Jane Austen in a couple of places:

And, to soothe the anxieties of print-culture stalwarts, in sleep mode the Kindle displays retro images of ancient texts, early printing presses and beloved authors like Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen.

and

A company called DailyLit this year began sending out books—new ones licensed from publishers and classics from authors like Jane Austen—straight to your e-mail IN BOX, in 1000-work chunks. (I’ve been reading Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” on my iPhone, a device that is expected to be a major outlet for e-books in the coming months.) And recently a columnist for the Chicago Tribune waxed rhapsodically about reading Jane Austen on his BlackBerry.

In our opinion, the Kindle is a great first step for a true e-reader for the masses. It’s easy to use and has a wide selection of titles; by the time one works one’s way through what is already available plus what can be picked up for free around the Internet, we’re sure even more titles will become available. However, there are some concerns. The most important of these concerns, in our opinion, is that the Kindle editions use a proprietary format that includes digital rights management to prevent copying. That means you can’t read Kindle editions on any other device; you can’t even buy a Kindle edition if you don’t own a Kindle that is linked to your Amazon account. You can read some other formats on your Kindle, but if you’re an early adopter of e-books and already have a library of DRM-protected Adobe PDF or Mobipocket format e-books, or any flavor of eReader books, you are out of luck. They can’t be read on the Kindle or converted to read on the Kindle. (Non-DRMed Mobipocket is supported natively and non-DRMed PDFs can be converted for reading on the Kindle.) Beta and VHS, anyone? And what happens if Amazon decides to get out of digital books in a few years? How are you supposed to read all those books you bought for the Kindle with the click of a button? Neil Gaiman and Mark Pilgrim discuss two views of DRM related to the Kindle. Of course, the proprietary format of iTunes downloads hasn’t affected the popularity of the iPod any, though of course it’s much easier to convert your physical media for use on the iPod than it is to convert a book for use on a Kindle. (You have to scan the book and format it. We’ve done it, but we’re a little nuts.)

Cory Doctorow, an author and evangelist for freedom in digital media, writes about some of the privacy concerns with the Kindle at BoingBoing. We think many consumers won’t be a bit put off by these issues, but his criticism is important. It’s one thing for a company to keep records of what you’ve purchased from them and use that information for future marketing purposes (and one of the things we love about Amazon is getting suggestions of things we will like based upon other things we’ve purchased), but knowing when and how you read a book, what you’ve bookmarked, how many times you’ve read it, is just a little creepy and Orwellian for our taste. The information gathering should stop at purchase, in our opinion.

And, we hate to say it, but the Kindle puts the fug in fugly. We like the idea of a keyboard for notes and annotations, but there’s an awful lot of wasted real estate there. Half the reason to have a dedicated e-book reader is portability! Keep it small, and reserve most of the surface area for the screen. This is not difficult to figure out. And, being tied to the Sprint network, the Kindle is currently US-centric, as the type of wireless signal used by Sprint is not used outside the U.S.

So why is the Kindle important to Janeites? We think it is an important step in making e-books easy to buy and use and raise the consciousness of e-books in the public eye; it also will fuel the development of other readers, and speed availability of many of our favorite authors’ books in digital format. (Hint: Georgette Heyer! Dorothy L. Sayers! Patrick O’Brian! C’mon, publishers!) The latter is important even for owners of devices other than the Kindle, as once a book is converted to text for the Kindle, it’s fairly easy to also make it available in other formats (see Mr. Knightley’s Diary, above). And again, why is this important to Janeites? Because there is 200 years of scholarship and publishing related to Jane Austen. Imagine having everything ever written about Jane Austen on instant demand. And the Kindle has a web browser–one even can use it to access the e-text library at Molland’s, for instance. There is lots of stuff out there, and we would like to see more, and we would like to download it all to our eInk device of choice and carry it around with us, for we are greedy when it comes to Jane Austen. We’ve contributed a mite to this archive of Janeite knowledge with our e-texts at Molland’s (and will be contributing more in future). Won’t it be a wonderful thing when books never go out of print? When we won’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for an obscure paraliterature title from the 1940s, because it’s available for a few dollars as a download? No one will have to warehouse it or pay for it to be printed; just give it server room. That will indeed be a wonderful thing for Janeites.

And guys, the Kindle can help you get chicks. Maybe.

Incidentally, Santa is bringing a Cybook Gen3 to AustenBlog World Headquarters next month (if it doesn’t sell out before the elves get there to pick it up, that is). Expect a full report. And we would love to hear from anyone who purchased a Kindle.

That’s it for this week’s Friday Bookblogging, Gentle Readers, and remember: Books Are Nice!