We shopped at Barnes & Noble and discovered that it’s a lonely, forbidding place for a young book.

Shopping via the Amazon Kindle: a whole other experience.

This is about the basics. Bruce isn’t sure that these details matter to readers. But this book, a revised, updated version of Gould’s classic text refuting biological determinism costs $9.99. A cool $10.00. This isn’t one of the .99 cent or free Kindle promotions. It’s an e-book version of a major publisher’s release of a classic title, one which was revised and updated by the celebrated natural historian Stephen Jay Gould prior to his death.

And this thing is a mess. Here is the dedication:

Yes, it’s really like that — a thin strip extending over 3 pages. Obviously it would be smaller or larger were I to change the font size — but no amount of Kindle fiddling will fix the problem — the underlying code is bad.

One might also think that the book has missing pages. I don’t think it actually HAS missing pages, but there are so many formatting problems that quotes, in particular, go awry, or cause later formatting problems in Gould’s text. In particular, it’s almost impossible to tell when a quote ends, and Gould’s own writing begins. Or sometimes, Gould’s writing is formatted similarly to a quote, while a quote is formatted similarly to his writing, and let’s not talk about the subheads.

The introduction begins with a quote from Socrates — first it is introduced by Gould, but again, it’s tough to tell who is saying what. This full-justification style is, for the most part (yet not exclusively) used for quotes, and Gould always quotes his sources extensively. So this sucker goes on for a couple of pages before what is being said becomes apparent.

Later, I was looking forward to seeing what Abraham Lincoln so strongly expressed in the Lincoln-Douglas debates:

I didn’t know these debates were illustrated! Here’s what Lincoln seems to have said:

I spent some time examining this illustration before continuing on.

Ah! Here is what he said. “lower relatives according to Nott and Gliddon …” Wait! Lincoln said, “There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. . . .” Yes, apparently Abraham Lincoln did say that while running for President against Stephen Douglas. Those famous Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Following the Lincoln quote, one can see how, for the most part, the book attempts to differentiate Gould’s commentary from the extensive quoted material. One signal is the Gould’s own parenthetical citation system (Author, date, page#). The other is the text indent for paragraphs. Most of the time.

This book is nearly impossible to read and understand due to egregious formatting problems and W.W. Norton snagged me for a full $9.99 for a book which I am having great difficulty reading. This is cutting down on the enjoyment and enlightenment factor as well.

So.

Because we have completed this and this and have other books in production, I know the exact cause of many of the underlying problems which have resulted in the substandard edition of The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, which should probably not be on sale in its present form, much less on sale for $9.99. Many of Gould’s other titles are priced above Amazon’s desired ceiling of $9.99 for e-books, by the way.

First, it’s obvious no one proofread this book on any e-reader, nor did they validate it with any e-book validation program such as Sigil. In addition to the egregious formatting problems, I’ve found grammar and spelling errors. If this book, as I suspect, was converted from an original print InDesign file, and the publication date is 2006 (though I do not think this e-book was put on sale in 2006 — that’s the revised print hardcover edition), that process is quite challenging. An example of a format mistake in conversion would be Gould’s skinny, narrow dedication. It took a wee bit of time to get the dedication to Bone Music to look like this:

At present, InDesign will absolutely make gorgeous e-books (fixed format and flowable EPUB), but it takes plenty of work. This is not a process that will be solved by any template that’s for sale out there, nor is it something that I would imagine a person in India or Pakistan could solve. In the process, one has the opportunity to ensure that every page is proofread as closely as possible, eliminating embarrassing errors such as are found in Gould’s e-book.

One of the later steps is sideloading the book on actual devices and testing its performance thoroughly. Again, it’s impossible for W.W. Norton to have done this — or they’ve got a really horrible employee who did it, saw this stuff, and didn’t care.

I will not, like one person who bought my work, buy this thing and then demand my money be refunded just so they could write a slam review. I bought it, I paid for it, I’m going to try to read it.

This book is not alone. I have many books on my Kindle Fire, and have tested many others on the iPad and iPhone and via Calibre and Sigil. This is one of the worst I’ve seen; that’s why I’m writing about it.

“Nobody would accept something like that in a hardcover,” Bruce said. Of course not! This is today’s note on where we need to go in the future.

How can good books compete with .99 cent and free junkers when the good books themselves, are formatted so poorly they can’t be read?

Bone Music, by the way, is as close to perfect as we can get it.

Originally published at www.amysterlingcasil.com on May 20, 2015.

According to Harlan Ellison and my grandmother, “You’ll go far Amy, because you have heart.” Author of 40 books, former exec., Nebula Award nominee, Poor.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store