Tag Archives: Kindle

Paper vs. Pixels

A tablet and a breaking paperback.

When I started my epic re-read of Les Misérables, I was reading an old paperback and tweeting my commentary as I went, then using them as scaffolding for an article at the end of each week. The good thing about that was that I was posting things immediately, though on the downside I did have to condense things into 140 characters (sometimes less, since I was trying to link them together with a #ReadingLesMis hashtag), plus of course everything had to be posted, even if it wasn’t particularly interesting on its own.

After a few weeks, reading in a place with no cell reception had me tapping out my notes offline instead of tweeting. This was actually a big improvement, since it meant I could jot down page numbers as reminders, or thoughts that would go well in an article but not in a tweet, and I could work on refining the article anytime I wanted.


Starting with Part Four, “The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic of the Rue Saint-Denis,” I’ve been reading a digital edition of the same translation on the Kindle app on my Nexus 7. Instead of tweeting or jotting notes down in an email draft, I’ve been using Kindle’s built-in highlight and notes feature.

It’s easier to carry around than the brick. I’m also reading a lot faster (when I have time to, anyway — ironically, I’ve had less time lately, so overall going is slower), because highlighting a sentence is much less of an interruption than setting the book down and tapping out a note on another device. And I don’t have to worry about worsening that tear in the spine, or the pages flipping back while I’m trying to read.

On the other hand, it means I’ll be doing more work when I write up the articles, because I haven’t started composing my commentary yet — just a few notes and a lot of highlights of items I want to mention or quote. I’m 150 pages past the last commentary I published — the ambush in the slums — which is where I switched to reading on the tablet.

The typos bug me, though. I haven’t seen this problem with other e-books, but this one? My best guess is this was scanned in and run through OCR. It’s the same text, format and typesetting as the Penguin Classics edition, down to the page numbers, but there are a lot of errors that aren’t in that print copy, and they’re all visual similarities, not keyboard misses or autocorrects. In particular, the word “die” has become “the” in at least three places (well, four, since one of them is twice in the same sentence!) in the hundred or so pages I’ve read since switching.

And I do miss the at-a-glance indication of how far I am through a section. Flipping forward to see how many pages to the next break, then back, is a lot easier with paper than swiping your finger across a screen. Plus moving that bookmark is much more satisfying (and motivating) than watching the blue line at the bottom of the screen get longer.

The worst part, though, of reading on the tablet? When time is short, it’s awfully tempting to use that time to catch up on emails or other busy-work instead of detoxing your brain with a book. That’s one case where a dedicated device or a physical book has the advantage.

Follow @ReadingLesMis on Twitter or @KelsonV@Wandering.Shop on Mastodon.

Les Misérables – Reading Digitally & Matching Translations

Les Misérables Book - Movie Tie-In CoverI learned three nice things about the Kindle movie tie-in edition of Les Misérables today:

  • It’s only $3.
  • It’s the same translation (Norman Denny, 1976) that I’ve been reading from a big stack of paper.
  • Page numbers match the print edition I’ve been reading, at least where I’ve spot-checked.

This will be great for times that I don’t want to lug around the brick, or that I’m out and about and want to work on my next article, or that I planned on reading something else and changed my mind.

Les Misérables: The BrickI’ve occasionally looked at the Isabel F. Hapgood translation (1887) on Project Gutenberg, just to check against something closer to contemporary. It’s very different. It is written in 19th century English, after all, and both writing style and language have changed significantly since then.

There are several other modern translations available. When I started this re-read, I considered looking up either the Fahnestock & MacAfee (1987) or Julie Rose (2009) translations. What I found online suggested that the former sacrificed readability in favor of accuracy to Victor Hugo’s text, and the latter tried so hard to be modern that it set up a cognitive dissonance between the setting and language. (This will become less important over time.) I suspect the Fahnestock & MacAfee translation is the one I looked through in a bookstore back in high school, comparing chapters I had recently read and wondering why they made the choices they did.

In the end, rather than look for a new edition, I reached for the old Penguin Classics copy that has been sitting on a succession of bookshelves since my teen years. I haven’t regretted it. Maybe when I come back to the book again a few years down the line I’ll check out another translation. But when I do, I’ll probably just read it instead of commenting on it. Update: Five years later, I came back to the book and read the 2013 Christine Donougher translation. Here are my first impressions.

Follow @ReadingLesMis on Twitter or @KelsonV@Wandering.Shop on Mastodon.