Sebald on the Phone
June 2, 2010
Last week I had a forty-five minute spell in a waiting room and I was glad that I had downloaded a few books to my iPhone. I would have preferred to have a physical book on hand, but reading an iPhone book was a much better option than the selection of magazines nearby. I have tried several book apps on my iPhone, including Amazon’s Kindle, and I find myself longing for a better blend of the traditional book and the digital. Making notes in an ebook should be as easy as penciling something on the margin of a real page. And there should be real page numbers that correspond to those on the printed book so that readers of both formats can literally be on the same page with one another. But there is no denying that it’s wonderful to always have several books buried in the memory of my phone and to be able to conduct a word or phrase search through entire books.
Today I was pleasantly surprised to find an ebook version of W.G. Sebald’s Campo Santo on iTunes. As far as I know, this is the first ebook for Sebald. So, of course, I had to buy it ($9.99) and play with it. The publisher is Iceberg Reader, which provides a nice alternative to the Kindle app. Iceberg’s version of Campo Santo follows the printed Modern Library edition almost exactly, including front cover, inside blurbs, copyright page, notes, and so on. It only seems to lack an image of the back cover. I was pleased to see that Sebald’s trademark illustrations appear exactly where they fall in the printed text.
Unfortunately, Iceberg fails to deliver when it comes to pagination. The company’s website proudly states: “Iceberg maintains pagination. This means that there are individual book pages, just like in the print copy of a book. This helps keep you oriented while reading, and serves as reference points for our notes and search features.” Frustratingly, however, the page numbers on Iceberg don’t match those of the printed book. In the case of Campo Santo, Iceberg’s pages are about twice as long as the actual book pages.
One further suggestion for Iceberg while I am at it. Iceberg’s website oddly does not offer a way to see all of the titles it has issued for Iceberg Reader. Instead, it directs you to iTunes, where there are currently 9,679 items listed. Anyone who uses iTunes, knows that it’s not a place for browsing. Nevertheless, Iceberg’s website proclaims: “We… are thrilled to announce we will soon be bringing more than a million books, as well as more than 50 major magazines and over 170 daily newspapers to the iPhone.” If that’s the case, then they’d better start providing a decent way to browse their selection – and not on iTunes.
Iceberg Reader doesn’t support highlighting, but it has all the other key tools that are integrated into the Kindle app. It permits making notes, full text search, and the ability to cut, paste and email quotes from the book. It took me less than twenty seconds to search for a specific section of Sebald’s text, copy a paragraph, and email it to myself. Now that was fun.