Surprenant_Pet Book Report #5: Helen by Maria Edgeworth

In our discussion of the digitization of books, I found myself wondering what is lost in the process. While I came to a greater appreciation of the process and the goals of such projects, I can’t help but wonder what is lost in the process. While digitized books may appear as an “edition,” that is, with editorial choices of what to include versus what to exclude, I think that the distortion of a material experience is something that the process lacks. I am not referring to the experience of holding a physical book in terms of the experience, but rather our course. So much of out investigation has dealt with handling books as artifacts and observing how they feel and how they look, what is written inside them, and what they are missing.

Thinking about my pet book, I wonder how Helen would be represented. I searched for a digital record of Helen and I found only PDFs for HTML versions, but none like those we viewed from the Women Writers Project. As Craig Mod wrote, “So consider this: 10,000 of us reading the same Kindle book, each of us highlighting and taking notes. Would the aggregate of this not be illuminating? If I want to publicly share my notes with fellow Kindle or iBooks readers, shouldn’t there be a system in place to do this?” This got me thinking about the states of a digital book for research purposes. My pet book  could not be digitized to explain the feel of the cardboard cover, the fading faux gold inlay, or even the marks of ownership. What would be available, I assume, would be explicit descriptions of such features, but that leaves the person investigating the book with only a version of an experience. Depending on what the digital record is based on, the record that is produced may not fully represent all of the information that is available in multiple print forms.

Of course, this brings us back to our discussion of editorial decisions. Such choices do need to be made, but it seems that such decisions in the print world are made out of necessity. With the seemingly endless possibilities of the internet, it seems as though we should be able to do more. As I write this, however, I’m thinking about the large volume of text that would have to be taken into consideration, and now I’m finding myself in the camp of “pick a version and read it.” There are some editions that make sense over other editions, and if my edition of Helen includes underlined passages, dog ears, and tears on particular pages, then that’s my experience with the text itself. Multiplicity is what allows learning and discussion to occur in the first place, so I suppose I’m back and square one and I don’t know what to think!

Whether I read my pet book on a Kindle or in it’s physical form, there is a certain experience I’ll find with each.  If one is looking specifically at the text for discussion and examination, it probably doesn’t matter much as to which edition of the text one reads. If one is taking it from an archival point of view, then the material experience may prove to be much more useful.

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