I now use curly quotation marks when proofreading

There are currently two things that are annoying me about Wikisource books. These are: the inclusion of hyperlinks (to be all 1990s about it, with using that word); and the usage of straight quotation marks.

Links I can forgive, or even actively enjoy, in non-fiction; but in fiction, they have no place. (So think I, anyway.) Especially when they link to a sodding dictionary term! I know how to look up a word I don’t know. Sigh.

The curly-vs-straight argument is an odd one. We only have straight ones thanks to typewriters (or their manufacturers, I guess) not wanting to have two sorts for each type of quotation mark. So why we persist I cannot say! No, I can say… it’s mostly to do with ease of typing, on common systems, I think. It’s annoying to type the opening and the closing glyphs, when there’s only one button on the keyboard. But really! That might hold sway where there’s no automatic system for handling these things, but we have those systems and they work admirably. And certainly, when it comes to typesetting books that are going to be read by (we hope) very many people, it’s worth putting a bit more effort in to make them look nice.

Because that’s what it’s about, ultimately: making the text beautiful! For how many hundreds of years have people been taking terrific care over making books look nice?! Let’s not give up on that.

I’m not really sure why I’m writing this, today. (Probably due to the glass of White Rabbit I’ve just here.) It’s that I’m firing with the zeal of the converted! I am, you see. I used to not care about quotes, and think they should be left straight — now, I stand on speakers’ corner and holler to confused passersby!

So, would that ye enjoy yr ebooks?! Then set them with loveliness!

Right… where’s that beer…

Where to work on ebooks? Wikisource vs GITenberg

Not enough photos are taken of the undersides of shop awnings.

This morning I’m at Parlapa, the lovely little caffe opposite the town hall. It’s a good place to be sat, with a slight hangover, with some nice small WordPress code to be working on, and of course with a coffee. The only down side is the fact that the City wifi almost reaches here, so I’ve got the most tantalising of faint signals and so keep trying to connect; I should give that up, and read a book.

I’m re-reading Tolstoy’s Dictaphone, which is a terrific book. But I’ve left it at home, un-terrifically, and so instead am reading Live and Let Live by Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Only read the first two pages so far so I’ve no idea what it’s about, and anyway keep getting distracted by typographical errors (so far, all resulting from the fact that Kobos don’t support small-caps. What a joke!).

Talking of small-caps, there’s movement at the GITenberg station, with a project underway to convert PG books to unicode and to use proper punctuation characters (for quotation marks and dashes, at least). The idea is to use Asciidoc, but there is no standard way to express small-caps. In fact, none of the popular lightweight markup languages seem to have small-caps; what an oversight!

So if I were with a more solid connection, I’d try to run the punctuation-fixing scripts against one of Mr Gissing’s works. Because there’s something nicer about working on books as stand-alone Git repositories, rather than in the mammoth universe of Wikisource and the WMF. A feeling that one is producing single editions, and perhaps a number of different formats for each — and is able to give each its due attention. The wikitext-as-source-format paradigm gets a bit tiring sometimes, because although the HTML output is great, and that makes for good ebooks (well, Kobo and its small-caps-ignorance aside), I’d really like to be able to produce printable (and thus bindable) output as well. Say, via LaTeX. And maybe Asciidoc is one way of doing that.

Really, the main thing that PG is missing (and GITenberg, although it’s probably easier to rectify there) is the ability to confer with the original source scans.

Kobo update

A few months ago I bought a Kobo Mini ereader. These are a few notes I’ve made since then about how well it works. It does work well, and I use it a lot.

  • Quite often, after first turning the thing on, it will go back to sleep mode after the first or second page-turn—without me touching the on/off switch. After switching it back on, it stays on until commanded otherwise. This is annoying, and the first few times I thought the thing was total crap, but now I’m used to it and it doesn’t really detract from normal use.
  • It took far longer than I would’ve expected to get used to turning the page! In a couple of books, it would turn the wrong way, or two pages at once, or not turn at all (but just refresh to the same page!). I think this was just my fumbling and lack of awareness of the various screen areas and swipe/tap directions, because it hasn’t happened for ages and I’ve nearly forgotten about it.
  • The bezel is a bit high, casting shadows across the text when the light is not quite high. Far better than the shadow cast by the opposite page of a book, though, so I don’t really say this as a criticism (but it is noticible).
  • Hyperlinks don’t work and should not be displayed as such. (This has only come up in Wikisource texts, and I realised that the epub’s stylesheet should be able to solve this problem.)
  • Fonts seem lacking in some UTF characters (such as 1/8).
  • Hyphenation is a bit weird. Maybe that’s something to do with the epub itself though? I haven’t bothered to read further on the issue.
  • The first-run can not be done on a Linux machine, as it does some stupid reporting and updating to the Kobo HQ. Why this sort of shit is necessary is beyond me, but at least it only needs to be done once and thereafter can be treated as a USB storage device on any OS. I would have loved to have been able to take it out of the box and instantly start reading some pre-packaged whatever.

There’s lots of other stuff, but basically positive and therefore invisible. It has good battery life; good screen contrast; is physically robust (although I do have a fantastic case for it, which puts a nice slab of binders’ board over the screen when it’s not in use); all up is pretty good.

Now, I just hope I don’t have to buy another ereader for, say, five years. Ten, preferably.

My new Kobo Mini

Today I bought a Kobo Mini ereader. It’s lovely: small and simple, feeling light and nice to touch. It’s got an on button on the top edge, and a USB plug on the bottom; the rest is screen, bezel, and back (the latter two of a sort of micro-fluffy textured plastic). So far, so good.

I bought it because I want to read Wikisource texts offline and away from the computer, and I don’t like the idea of continuing to print them out. It’s nice to proofread on paper, perhaps, but then carrying A4 pages around in manilla folders isn’t very good (for reading on the bus and whatnot). I don’t think it’s too hard to make notes about corrections in my notepad, so long as I give a suitable amount of context.

Anyway, the second thing about the Mini, after it’s pleasing appearance: it won’t work until it’s been ‘activated’! What on earth’s the point of that, other than to attempt to force me into buying books from some particular company or other?! Ridiculous! However, do it I must, if I want to read anything else — so I registered, and stumbled around in the Kobo Desktop application…

At first it looked like it mightn’t actually be possible to just copy the files I wanted to the device (despite it most sensibly mounting as a little external storage thingo), but it turned out that one must first activate it and then copy files to it, in order for them to be recognised. The file I’d copied before activation was ignored, but then after copying another there it kicked it into action and both were listed in the main menu. A relief.

So: all working on Ubuntu now, and I’ll report back in a few weeks on the actual readish fun of the thing….


Update: I wrote some more about my Kobo in July.

Turning Over an Old Leaf

So here I am, back in the office, and bored again.

I have spent the morning trawling the Arts Full Text database; from the ‘Notebooks’ category, to ‘Reading and Books’, and thence to things about binding, I’ve been remembering that thrill of quiet, sparse, precise, personal times in libraries, with books and a notebook. Nicholson Baker wrote about transcribing to commonplaces (which is pretty much what I see this blog to be). Then an essay about reading aloud caught my attention, and I wondered where my final, aborted, art school woodwork project would be now, had I ever finished it. It was going to be a lectern, not large, but heavy, and built with old wood and all treenailed joints (even the dovetails were pinned through; I can’t remember why). A thing to own only if one never wished to move house again, I think.

In reading these writings about reading, and they were mostly a half dozen pages or so, I missed a thing from books: pages. I like turning pages, strange as that may sound: each page turned is a milestone (or, really, more like a yard-stone, if such a thing has ever existed; maybe in Huysmans’ journeys to the grog cabinet in Là-Bas they did), and forms some sort of ‘meta-rest’ — a pause in reading never intended by the author, but imposed by the printer; a gap resolved only from the book-ness of the text. On a screen there is no such thing — try reading a Project Gutenberg text on-screen, and you quickly get disoriented by the endless down, the ‘single page’ that has turned a book, a codex, into a perverse scroll that is longer than any that ever kept at Alexandria. I’ve heard that some of these so-called eBooks solve this problem by necessitating some sort of swiping gesture along the device’s margin to turn the page, but I doubt it’s the same. I love turning to a long-shut page in an old book and feeling the binding adjust and fold and present the folio, the sewing showing sometimes, and the hollow back opening smoothly. Running one’s finger down the fold, to confirm that this is where I’m reading, that though there may be much past and much to come, this page is now. (Of course, these remarks rarely hold true for a perfect-bound book: but maybe some people get satisfaction from breaking the backs of these wretched modern bricks, or in not being able to open them properly. I don’t know.)

Now it’s lunchtime, and I’m going to walk through the rain to find some lunch somewhere. With luck, a place in which reading will fit. I’m reading a novel by William Gibson at the moment, so maybe the rotten ‘mall’ will do, as at least there I’ll be out of the rain (and out of the office; I’m not particularly enamored with this place at the moment, and am thinking of quitting).