Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Alchemy of E-Books

Et voila! - a little logo I knocked up today to go on the back of printed books from now on – feel free to email me for it. Actually, Photoshop would not do what I wanted it to do, and I had a terrible morning - but after an hour of yoga, (yes, there was a tiny chanting session at the finale), I returned to the chains around my office chair, and resorted to InDesign.

Thankfully, it all fell into place as if the morning’s turmoil had never happened….

We are nearly at the point of going live with 28 e-books through Faber Factory, powered by Constellation, a digital platform developed by our American distributors, Consortium Book Sales in Minneapolis.

It has been an exciting process, and my eyes are now agog at the advantages of e-books - for students, and anyone with a curious mind.

So I will now take complete liberty and digress, using the subject of alchemy, which as we know, is all about turning the most unpromising substances to gold. And that is what e-books seem to do, by making it oh, so much easier to browse through interesting books, and find fascinating nuggets of information.

So, The Alchemy of Paint by Spike Bucklow – an erudite book on the history and origin of paint pigments. And then, one of the bestselling Social Sciences books on the list, Decoding Advertisements by Judith Williamson, which is all about the power that advertisements have over our desires and image of our own bodies, and our appetites, which include fashion, food and sinful things like cigarettes and alcohol. What on earth has alchemy to do with in Judith’s book? Well, she uses it to explain the process of turning unpromising looking granules into edible potato.

In Chapter Six, we have alchemy in the chapter title – then the e-book search function gets you to her paragraph of lengthy persuasion that the potato microcosm – the atom of artificial potato. Is in fact called ‘Wondermash’. We are not shown the fluffy potato with the water added, because that would be prosaic, no, the ad. shows us the magic granule, and the ad. makes us believe we can perform the alchemy to turn it into real mash.

Now, in Spike’s book, you may want to know more about Tyrian purple, which is extracted from Murex snail shells, found in abundance around the Eastern Mediterranean. These are carnivorous snails, or should I call them snarls, as I am now starting to fear the snails in our back garden may add threatening snarls to their slime producing. Spike tells us Tyrian purple was discovered when Hercules was wooing the nymph Tyros. Not getting on well with her one day, Hercules turned to playing with her dog on the beach. He found that the dog had picked up some snails for a tasty (possible meaty scented) snack, and the dog’s nose had gone purple. Tyros picked up the snail, as maidens interested in fashion are wont to do, and pleaded with Hercules to dye some material purple for her, which of course, he promptly did by crushing the shells of the Murex snail, and Bob’s your uncle, Hercules and Tyros became romantically inclined. In the e-book, in Chapter Six, next to the word snail is a small superscript 5, which if you click on it, takes you to the end notes of the chapter, and references that will lead you to more discoveries about snails and pigments. No arduous turning of pages, or making of notes – it is all there at a click of the mouse, or flick of a finger.

So I think e-books and alchemy have earned their place in the world, indeed they are making more alchemy possible.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A snippet from Publishers Weekly online caught my eye -

Authors on the Air February 2, 2012: Mei-Ling Hopgood, David Agus
Mei-Ling Hopgood, author of How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (Algonquin Books, 978-1565129580)

When we published Gerard Beirne's novel, which I thought was full of fairly hard characters from real life - we were criticized for using the word 'eskimo' rather than Inuit. The Inuit in the Net had no 'ring' to it, while The Eskimo in the Net conjured up an image of a frozen body, with icy whiskers, and a shiny head of black hair, so we stuck to our guns. And here we are a few years later, and Eskimos are OK. So that is one in the eye for the politically correct, I guess. If all publishers edited out every nuance in language, we'd have a rather depleted vocabulary to work with.