It's been nearly five years since the last volume of J.K. Rowling's coming-of-age wizard saga hit bookstore shelves and nearly a year since the final movie flickered on screens worldwide, yet Harry Potter isn't exactly kicking the broom into high gear for a trip into e-books. It's not that Rowling is averse to the format, it's just that converting a series that has already sold 450 million volumes worldwide into an e-book and making sure it's compatible with as many formats as possible takes time. Rowling announced last summer that the Harry Potter e-books would be made available through her online Potter portal Pottermore by fall of 2011. In September, however, Pottermore's creators said the e-books wouldn't be ready by the promised October date and would likely be delayed until "the first half of 2012." We're already more than two months in and Pottermore is still in beta, its official blog is filled with fan art and Harry e-books are nowhere to be seen. Maybe they arrived at Track 9½ at Kings' Cross station a bit too late for the train?
Angst never sounds so lovely or detailed as it does from Joan Didion's pen. Drifting through stories of upper-class America, societal change, the American woman, illness, aging and death, Didion added her voice to the New Journalism of Capote, Mailer and Thompson by writing about her subjects just as she saw them: Unflinchingly and subjectively. It's a style used to great effect in describing the death of her husband in 2007's The Year of Magical Thinking and her daughter's death and her own encroaching mortality in last year's Blue Nights. Unfortunately for subway cars full of e-reader-toting bibliophiles, the works that are perhaps the greatest and most raw examples of her journalistic talent remain locked in print. Her 1968 anthology Slouching Toward Bethlehem -- a collection of pieces about life in California -- has never been released as an e-book. Neither has The White Album, her 1979 collection of pieces from Esquire, Life, The New York Times and The New York Review of Books that bid farewell to the 1960s with pieces about the Black Power movement, life in Los Angeles after the Manson family, the class divide on Hawaiian beaches and graveyards and Nancy Reagan's white elephant of a California governor's mansion. So why are these books stuck in pulp limbo while Blue Nights, The Year Of Magical Thinking and fiction works such as Run, River and A Book of Common Prayer sit in the Kindle and Nook stores? Part of the problem lies in the content itself. Yes, it's Didion's work, but they're still stories culled from the Saturday Evening Post, New York Times Magazine, Vogue and other publications. That presents all sorts of intellectual property issues for digital publishing that likely weren't considered when the books were compiled in the 1960s and 1970s. If so, that's a shame. There didn't seem to be any roadblock Didion's white Corvette couldn't clear.
Just about every schoolchild in America reads this book at some point in their learning process. The entire city of Chicago read it together back in 2001. It won the Pulitzer Prize and earned its author the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It's also not coming to an e-reader anytime soon. The story of 6-year-old Scout Finch and her journey through three years in Maycomb, Ala., that include her father's legal defense of a black man accused of raping a young white woman, her reclusive neighbor Boo Radley's penchant for hiding gifts in trees and her own growth from a girl into a young woman is a cornerstone of American culture. For generations, summer reading assignments have turned into summers spent with Scout, her brother Jem and their friend Dill. There's anger at town drunk Bob Ewell when he threatens Atticus Finch and his children, disappointment in the outcome of Tom Robinson's trial and a rekindling of faith in humanity when children turn back an angry mob and Boo Radley saves the day. None of that would be lost in the conversion to an e-book, but for some reason it's not happening. The 85-year-old Lee has been reluctant to talk about the book for years and, according to an interview with her close friend the Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts in Australia's Daily Telegraph, may not be capable of doing so. She is in an assisted living facility, confined to a wheelchair, partially deaf and blind and suffering from memory loss. Lee has always been protective of To Kill A Mockingbird and her own privacy, so any decision she's made about its transfer to an e-book likely won't reach the public. If readers are looking for some insight into what she might think of e-books, however, they may want to consider this excerpt from a letter she wrote to Oprah Winfrey in 2006: "Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books."
What, you fancy-pants people can't even open a book anymore? What a bunch of phonies. Salinger's must-read novel for angst-ridden teens still draws a huge audience that empathizes with the awkwardness, anger and apathy of Holden Caulfield. What it's never had is an adaptation beyond the book those people have loved. A big part of the problem was Salinger himself. Notably reclusive and just as touchy as Catcher's main character, Salinger told director Elia Kazan to take it walking when he wanted to bring the play to Broadway. He also spurned Jerry Lewis, Harvey Weinstein, Jack Nicholson, Steven Speilberg and Billy Wilder when they tried to turn the film into a movie. Even after his death in 2010, his agent made clear that the position on adaptations of Catcher In The Rye had not changed. Unless readers count pirated PDFs, there hasn't been an e-book copy of Catcher In The Rye to date and there hasn't been so much as a hint one is coming any time soon. Given how closely Salinger guarded the book, readers likely have a better chance of getting punched in the stomach by a pimp than reading Catcher on their $400 iPad in their cushy dorm rooms at Pencey Prep. Phonies.
Marquez's 1967 story following the lives of seven generations of the Buendia family during a period of tremendous upheaval in the town of Macondo, Colombia, isn't absent from the e-book ranks by any means. It's just only available in the original Spanish as Cien Anos de Soledad. It makes sense. It's a metaphor-laden tome that's inherently Colombian as it grapples with the changing nature of colonial life, the railroad's reshaping of the physical and economic landscape, the Thousand Days War from 1899 to 1902, the struggle against iron-fisted corporate agriculture, the military massacre of striking workers and the ultimate destruction of the whole fragile enterprise. That story was told in Spanish and is best interpreted in Spanish. We're also aware that many Americans who came to love Marquez through this book, Love In The Time Of Cholera and others did so through English translations of those works. Those translations come at a cost and author and translator are owed for their efforts. American e-book readers see this quite often with public domain works by foreign authors such as Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire that are available for free in French, but come at a cost when translated into English. It's a price many readers would pay if they could, but right now it's out of their hands. If ever there was a time for non-Spanish speakers to test those high-school Spanish chops, this is it.
For a novel so inherently tied to technology, it's somewhat surprising to see 2001's U.S. publishers not embrace the e-book. Then again, if every Kindle, Nook or iPod is another Hal waiting to happen, perhaps they'd prefer that readers take the novel page by paper page. Clarke's 1968 tale of space explorers tracking down strange monoliths that hold the key to human evolution is at once a relic of the Space Race and the Cold War and an indictment of unpredictable technological advances. Were 2001 converted into an e-book, readers would likely feel fortunate that the Wi-Fi enabled e-reader they're holding has no control over their ability to communicate or their oxygen supply. That's already a distinct possibility for readers elsewhere, but the U.S. rights to 2001 held by Penguin Group are keeping it off e-shelves here. Go ahead, go to the Kindle store and try to buy it. That nagging green box in the corner that says "This title is not available for customers from: United States" is a reminder of that international publishing rights are a complicated matter that becomes no less so when the author's been dead for nearly four years.
It shouldn't be this hard to buy a book about the horrors of war, the slow death of one's youth beneath the barbed wire and the almost complete destruction and starvation of a country . If anything, the publishing company should offer students some form of compensation for reading it. Set on the German side of the lines in World War I, All Quiet On The Western Front is a brutally graphic depiction of life in the trenches and on the pockmarked battlefields. One nameless battle blends into the next. Food is scarce. Any ground gained isn't taken for long. Deaths aren't quick and painless, but bloody, noisy and drawn out. Going home for leave doesn't help, either, as no one understands what's going on in the battlefield, but everybody's inclined to offer an opinion. It's that sense of detachment that's still prevalent today as soldiers return home from detachment only to listen to arguments at Dunkin' Donuts over how much cream is in a hazelnut coffee and quibbling at home about whether American Idol or The X Factor is the better judge of talent. The problem, much as it is with 100 Days Of Solitude, is that All Quiet On The Western Front wasn't written in English. The more than 80-year-old book has been a staple in American classrooms for decades, but was released as Im Westen nicts Neues in 1929. That German version is available as an e-book for between $20 and $40, but there's no sign of an English translation on the Western front or anywhere else.
Oh, never mind that this Pulitzer Prize-winning 2000 tale of a Golden Age comic book artist-and-writer tandem is one of the best books of the past 20 years and is just waiting for a format that can include illustrations of the duo's hero The Escapist and other behind-the scenes material. We'll just let this multifaceted story remain as two-dimensional as possible. Starting with Josef Kavalier's escape from the Nazis in Prague and finishing with Sammy Klayman's struggle with his own identity in 1950s suburban America, Kavalier & Clay looks at a pivotal moment in American history and society through the softening lens of the comic book industry. Many of the book's key moments are pulled directly from the lives of legendary comic book artists and writers including Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Joe Simon, Joe Shuster and Will Eisner and leave little to imagine about the men behind the supermen. For as much as Kavalier & Clay was loved during its original run, though, any attempts to move it to another medium have ended in disappointment. A screenplay Chabon wrote with producer Scott Rudin has been kicking around Hollywood for the past decade. It's been discussed as a film and as an HBO-style television miniseries, but nothing has come of it. That didn't bode well for its transition to e-book. Well fear not, true believers, as there's an electronic version in sight. Random House is bringing the book into the digital realm this summer across multiple platforms. It's been a bit of a wait, but at least part of Kavalier & Clay's story has a happy ending. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.
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