Tuesday, 1 March 2016

follow up to our first e-books class

vesalius frontispiece
Frontispiece to Andreas Vesalius's
De humanis corpora fabrica (1543)
Hope everyone enjoyed our dissection of an EPUB file in our Monday class. Looking at unfamiliar lines of code can be daunting, but your experience with TEI in the encoding challenge should make it easier to make sense of the relatively simple markup that's usually found in ebooks. As Andreas Vesalius knew, sometimes you can only understand how something works by taking it apart, and thankfully e-books are rather easier to anatomize than some other objects of study.

If you'd like to download some public-domain EPUB files that are free of DRM, there are lots of places to find them on the web, but Project Gutenberg is a good place to start. (And that's probably the only time I'll recommend Project Gutenberg for anything in this course.) For example, you can download a DRM-free version of the 1611 King James Bible, which we've examined in class, from this link: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10 .

One you've saved one of the EPUB files to a local folder, you can rename the file suffix from .epub to .zip and decompress it. (In OSX I find StuffIt Expander works better than the other utilities for some reason.) Decompressing the file should create a new folder that will look a lot like the one we examined in class, and you can poke around using a web browser and text editor. (A good reference to the parts of an EPUB file can be found here: http://epubsecrets.com/where-do-you-start-an-epub-and-what-is-the-guide-section-of-the-opf-file.php.) As an alternative to looking at the various EPUB sub-files directly, you can also open the .epub file itself (not the .zip file you created) in an EPUB editor such as Sigil or Calibre. Sigil is the one we looked at in class, which is a bit simpler to use.

On other fronts, in our last class we got onto a tangent (unheard of in my classes, I know...) about the genre of the "wordless novel." The work that introduced me to this genre, and which has been one of my favorite books to discover this past year, is Laurence Hyde's 1951 masterpiece, Southern Cross: a Novel of the South Seas, Told in Wood Engravings, which tells the story (wordlessly) of a nuclear test in the South Pacific. If you're looking for an excuse for a quiet hour in the Fisher reading room, you can call up their copy here: http://go.utlib.ca/cat/1567780 . It's one of the most moving books I've read in a long time, and it's inspiring to know that Hyde was from our neighbourhood (literally; he went to Central Technical High School a few blocks down Harbourd Street).

Finally, I also mentioned in class that the Centre for Reformation and Renaissnace Studies here at U of T is looking for an iSchool student to do a summer practicum with them. Details are posted in the discussion section of Blackboard.

Happy dissecting!

Update: I neglected to mention that the lecture slides are now posted to BB. Also, here is the link to the iSchool ebooks symposium even I mentioned: http://ischool.utoronto.ca/content/ebook-symposium-current-state-art-libraries

Post-update update: At the beginning of class I also mentioned a New York Times article from last Fall that reported a recent slowing of e-book sales in relation to print. There were plenty of responses to this article, but one worth reading in particular is a piece in Fortune that disagrees with the NY Times article's interpretation of the sales data taken from the Association of American Publishers. Anyway, interesting times for our course, that's for sure.

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