Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, August 16, 2010

infinite gestures

Yeah, I know everybody read Infinite Jest last summer, but I didn't. I had a book to write. Also this summer. So I am finally getting around to it, but have been somewhat comically delayed by indecisiveness: paperback or Kindle?

I’ve had the big paperback version for a while, and I was expecting to read that. I got myself a bookmark, and then stuck a Post-it note in the endnotes for rapid reference; I even printed out a list of significant characters and taped it to the inside back cover. I sharpened my pencils, and then plunged in.

But darn, that book is big and awkward. Also, it has a lot of words per page, and per line — understandable, given the novel’s length, but not ideal for readability. And then I started thinking that I might want to blog about it, and in that case, being able to access underlined passages online for quick & easy copying & pasting would be a large plus. . . .

So I bought the Kindle version. All the above problems solved . . . but . . . I found that I was missing the visual cues that codexes offer. I don't often miss them, or not all that much anyway, but in this case I miss them. Wallace goes off on these long riffs, but on the Kindle it’s hard to tell how long they are; whereas when holding the codex I could flip ahead to see how long I should be prepared to keep my concentration before I can expect a break. Also, I found that I don't wholly trust the Kindle the way I trust printed books: for instance, in a relatively early episode featuring a conversation between two men on a hilltop overlooking Tucson, Arizona, there’s a sudden cut to a description of vast herds of enormous feral hamsters in an environmentally ravaged region of the northeastern U.S. / southeastern Canada, and I thought, Wait . . . did someone make a mistake here? Is this actually a footnote misplaced? Did an episode heading get left out? I have seen enough mistakes in Kindle editions that I couldn't, and actually stopped reading until I could compare the codex — in the fidelity and accuracy of which I, like most people, have nearly absolute trust.

(That trust, by the way, isn't automatic and natural, but something that has been built up over centuries by a very complex social economics, as described by Adrian Johns in his magisterial Nature of the Book.) (Turns out that the Kindle was right about the placement of the hamster interlude, but a section break — in the form extra leading between paragraphs — was missing. It was there in the paperback.)

So I decided to go back to the codex. But — again — it’s kinda big. My eyes didn't like tracking that far across the page. If I wanted to annotate anything (and I did) I had to be sitting up. I began to long for the small size and light weight of the Kindle, and the ability to underline passages while recumbent. . . .

So I think I’m back to the Kindle. One way or another, I’m going to get this thing read, and there will be some comments on this blog along the way.

(However, blogging will continue to be lighter than usual for a while. I will be on the road this coming week with limited online access, so while I have queued up a couple of posts I might not have many chances to reply to comments.)

10 comments:

  • I look forward to your postings on Infinite Jest. I've read quite a bit of Wallace's non-fiction, but have found the novels too daunting.

  • Your post mirrors my thoughts almost exactly. I'm in the midst of the Kindle version and missing my friend's paperback copy that I started reading back in July. In addition to missing the visual cues about the lengths of certain passages, I find the way the Kindle handles the footnotes to be just a different kind of annoying.

  • I adore the book (I read the paperback five or six years ago) and can understand the difficulties you've encountered on the Kindle version. My husband and I have wondered for ages, though, how the footnotes are handled in eBook editions. Care to illuminate us?

  • katie s.. on the Kindle it's like a webpage. They're underlined links that you click on to go to te footnote, then hit the Back button to return to where you were.

  • See, to me that method of endnote handling is *better* than the printed edition. I'm so irritated by endnotes that I don't read them until the end, and sometimes not even then. I'm reading Infinite Jest myself at the moment and am refusing to subject myself to all the book-flipping...

  • So weird. I'm currently reading Infinite Jest and have bounced between the paperback, Kindle, iPad and iPhone. I started on my Kindle but tragically dropped it, shattering the screen. So I bought the paperback. Soon after I realized that I could download the Kindle app on my iPhone, which was good for night reading. And now I have recently acquired an iPad, which I don't really like that much.

    Verdict: Read it in paperback form with two bookmarks. Navigating the endnotes on a traditional Kindle is awful because of the silly little joystick nub. The touch screens of the iPhone and iPad are better for that, but reading on computer screens always feels like work.

  • I have yet to read Infinite Jext, keep meaning to do it. The endnotes wouldn't bother me. This summer I've been on-and-off reading the G. H. McWilliam translation of The Decameron. I just use two bookmarks. The endnotes help clarify a lot of the context and certain word choices. I can see how the Kindle version would be a lot easier for reading those endnotes.

    In the meantime Alan, I look forward to your posts about Infinite Jext.

  • I'm curious to hear more feedback on how the Kindle/iPad/iPhone handles the endnotes. I'm about to start reading IJ for a second time. The first time, I was back and forth between the 1st ed. hardcover and the current US paperback, but this time I learned a lesson. I bought a used copy of the UK paperback (smaller, but thicker) and cut it in half :)

  • Is there a nice, big ol' hardback you could get from a library? That might solve the awkwardness and page-format problems. At the expense of size and heft, of course.

  • IJ has been on my list for a while now too; look forward to your thoughts. Meantime, I also thought you might enjoy this artist's "gestures" video, "Effect of a Book." Thought of it while reading through your experience of the endnotes et al.

    http://www.swiss-miss.com/2010/08/gestures.html

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