Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Generational Thing

It is surely a generational thing, you being in a transitional generation where, having negotiated a per-page rate with a publisher for editing a novel, you asked when you could expect the manuscript and the publisher said, "Oh, here it is."  She was in Florida and you were not.  And then, you heard ping, and indeed, there it was, in your in box,  After ending your conversation with her, you realized you were about to "learn" how to edit this electronic manuscript without going through the process of printing it out before you began.

That was some years ago.  You rather enjoyed your learning experience.  Although you did print out a number of proposals for your recent 528-page project as well as printing a number of copies of the entire manuscript, your agent thought nothing of submitting it in electronic format nor were you surprised when it sold on the basis of an electronic-rather-than-paper manuscript, much less did you give thought to the content edits coming via MS Word track changes, ditto the copyeditor's version.

So you have "moved over" from paper submissions and paper edits with even less effort than the switch from a series of PC computers to your Mac Book.

But there is more to it than that.

You came to books when the options had to do more with the kind of press the book was printed on, when the type was letterpress, then morphing into photographic, when you had to make decisions about how a book was bound, what the basis weight of the paper it was printed on mattered, and how many pages to the inch the printed version bulked.

This all came flashing through your mind at coffee this afternoon, as you browsed The London Review of Books, coming upon an advertisement for a special printing of a book by Julian Barnes, offering the buyer options of the entire binding being in leather, or in the more standard three-piece binding, the spine of which was leather.  All copies of the book would come with a slip case.  The ad did not list prices, but having dealt with the manufacture of some five or six hundred books, you began to assess the prices and even toyed with the notion of how nice it would be to own such a book.

When you think of the craft that goes into the making of a book, you will appreciate the opportunity to carry some portions of one with you on some electronic device or other, to look at, reference, have on your person the same way you have a folded twenty- or hundred-dollar bill, tucked away against emergency or, better, for a whim.

Even though your electronic book may hold the text as a genie-in-a-bottle prisoner in some agreeable type face, even though it may in fact hyperlink to relevant streaming sites, it does not smell of glue.  Nor does it lie flat if it is smythe-sewn, nor mousetrap if it is perfect bound or printed on cross grain paper.  Nor does its cover have blind stamping or three-piece construction.

Your ebook is virtually weightless, it is true, but do its pages have deckle edges, does its spine support head and foot bands?  Does it anywhere have the smell of leather?


But whatever format it is, it is a book.

Last night, on your evening walk, you saw a massmarket paperback of your great pal, Barnaby Conrad's second and probably most important novel for him, Matador.  You'd never seen it in that form before; you had direct involvement in it being made available on an electronic device.  Once a book, always a book,

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