Either the world is good or I’ve been too busy to rant here lately but during this past week a couple of things have gotten under my skin. None of them are really annoying enough for a fully-powered rant all on their own but together they’ve allowed me to build up sufficient steam
The first is what I think of as the Americanisation of literature. I liked Toronto-based legal thriller THE GUILTY PLEA a lot but the edition I read had some very un-Canadian features. Firstly, on multiple occasions clunky bits of exposition were included to explain the differences between the Canadian and American legal systems. Occasionally this was done via the Canadian detective character explaining things to the American journalist character in an almost realistic fashion (though surely any journalist worth her salt who regularly operated on both sides of the border would know this stuff already) but at other times it seemed like sentences were inserted in the narrative virtually without context. Secondly, and even more annoyingly, Canadian characters talked in imperial measurements (e.g. some chap was referred to as weighing a certain number of pounds versus the kilograms that a Canadian would actually use in real life).
I can’t decide which explanation for this sad state of affairs is worse. On the one hand there might only be one edition of the book and everyone – including Canadians – is just supposed to accept a Canadian story that has an oddly American feel to it. Presumably if this is true then publishers and/or authors are deliberately inserting the American-specific language and exposition in any book they want to do well in the American market. The alternative possibility is that there is a separate edition of this book (and probably many others) for American readers which means, presumably, that American publishers think American readers are too stupid or too insular to be able to read a book in which lawyers can’t engage in a side-bar conversation while in court and judges don’t have gavels.
Either way this homogenisation is something I think we should all (American readers included) rail against. Surely one of the joys of reading books set in different places is learning a little something about different cultures, language and social norms. And if we come across an unfamiliar fact or a word there is virtually ubiquitous access to Google or Wikipedia these days for a quick bit of ‘research’.
Is it really unreasonable to want a book set in Canada (or Sweden or France or Australia) to read like it is set in Canada (or Sweden or France or Australia) rather than the 51st state of the bloody union?
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The second gripe is the woeful state of eBook formatting. You’d think I’d have been chuffed that Aussie author Andrew Nette’s début novel GHOST MONEY was not only great reading but also well formatted. And of course I was. I liked the crispness of the font, the spacing of the lines, the margin width that meant none of the text was affected by the tiny shadows formed on my eReader’s slightly inset screen. And I particularly liked the fact that the book was free from the wordsallrunningtogether and inexplicably
split lines that virtually every other eBook I’ve read is plagued by.
But after the first glow of wonderment had abated I started to get hot under the collar about why all my eBook reading experiences aren’t similarly perfect.
I’ve paid good money for some eBooks that my fifth grade English teacher would have knocked back with something along the lines of “no one will care about what you say if you can’t say it properly” or an acerbic “are the jam fingerprints an integral part of the story young lady?” (both are actual quotes from Mrs Gibbon, a recent immigrant to Australia from India when she taught me and though 35 years have since passed I still feel the influence of her insistence on presenting the written word with due reverence) (it is, after all, with a nod to Mrs Gibbon that I even proofread my text messages). It could be argued that the book’s publisher, Snubnose Press, only publishes eBooks so they ought to be good at it but how long should traditional publishers get a pass for? A year? A decade? For the term of their natural lives (which won’t be much longer if they don’t smarten up)? Perhaps in the interim Snubnose can make some extra dosh by offering to format the eBook versions of traditionally published books for those publishers who, seemingly, can’t be bothered.
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My last gripe concerns FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Or rather the people who will not stop promoting it. I received three emails and one piece of physical junk mail in the last week alone offering deals on the trilogy. All from local (Australian) stores.
Book stores in general and Australian ones in particular have been bemoaning their lot in life in recent years. The incursion of online shopping and easy access to US and UK stores with their significantly lower prices has, undoubtedly, impacted the local market (for example the store where my book club used to meet closed its doors 2 weeks ago). But whenever they talk about fighting back they bang on about how they have something unique to offer readers, especially in the areas of curation and recommendation. THERE IS NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT OFFERING ME A BOOK I CAN, LITERALLY, PICK UP OFF THE STREET. For all its slightly worrying behemoth-ness Amazon’s recommendation algorithm has never offered FSoG up to me.
I am the kind of customer my local book stores need. I spend a ridiculous amount of money on books each year, unlike the occasional reader who will be tempted to enter the store just once for this Fifty Shades of Soft Porn that everyone is talking about. And I want a book store to make intelligent recommendations and offers. Instead of stuffing their newsletters and shelves with yet more copies of FSoG how about some Australian offerings? Each time I have bought a copy of Virginia Duigan’s THE PRECIPICE this year (one for me, two as gifts) I’ve had to order it in. It’s a new-release Australian novel that was long listed for this year’s Miles Franklin award and it’s f***ing brilliant. But there’s no room for even a handful of stock copies amongst the entire display of E.L.James’ tomes. If that’s all my local store is going to offer a reader like me then I will revert to buying online (something I’ve hardly done at all for the past 12 months).