For this week’s exercise, I chose Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, because I’m currently reading the text in book form and thought it would be interesting to compare the digital versions alongside my current “textual” reading experience. The text was readily available in multiple formats on Project Gutenburg, HATHITrust and Google Books. As Cliffie noted, Project Gutenburg offers the most versions available for download, though HATHITrust also offers versions for PDF download with a “partner login.” I explored this option since I figured the university would be affiliated, and I was correct. After logging in with UMD, I was able to download a full PDF of the text. Google, too, offers PDFs of certain texts for download, as well as ebooks (free or at cost) through Google Play.
Because several different versions of the text were available through each platform, various sources were available. The Project Gutenburg eBook did not specify which copy-text it reproduced, but rather cited its own 2006 release date and noted its being “Produced by” Michael Pullen and David Widger, who I would presume are the text’s editors. The Google Book I chose was a Penguin Classics version, which clearly (because the pages of the original text were reproduced and therefore reflected typical publication details) stated its copyright, editors, publishers, etc. The Penguin Classics version is that of the Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, associated with the Ohio State University Press. The “Two Volumes in One” edition of The Marble Faun I eventually settled on from HATHITrust (there were 3 pages of options) was an “Illustrated Library Edition” published in 1876 by James R. Osgood and Company; the digitized version was provided by Google Books and the original came from the University of Virginia (both institutions were cited on each page with a digital watermark). Out of curiosity, I checked my Oxford World Classics version, which, like the Penguin Classics, comes from the Centenary Edition of NH’s works and is reproduced with the permission of Ohio State University Press.
The PG eBook has little to no formatting in terms of “design,” but pages must be clicked through. The “click-through” versus “scroll” layout is interesting, since it is perhaps closer to the feeling of turning a page. Some “pages” are longer than others, but I couldn’t seem to pinpoint why—chapter divisions didn’t dictate this, since not all started on a new “page” but were rather just denoted with a title and break. Paragraphs, however, were never broken up, and neither were sentences. This, I should think, does aid in a continuity of reading. The Google Books Penguin Classics edition replicates the textual layout very accurately, though I’ve just noticed it’s not a full preview. I’ve switched over to a Houghton & Mifflin version from 1900, which, in terms of format, is more interesting anyway. Though there are clearly scanning issues (crooked pages, etc.) illustrations are reproduced, as are original (though original with whom, who knows) underlines and marginalia. This text comes from the University of Wisconsin, and has clearly been read—and annotated—before. The HATHITrust Marble Faun didn’t seem to have many formatting issues, though this version was the slowest to load. The pages were more “centered” than the Google Books version (better scanning/uploading?), but the text was denser (inky, almost) and slightly harder to read.
In terms of the viewing setup, I liked the HATHITrust options for “Classic,” “Scroll,” “Flip,” “Thumbnail,” and “Plain Text” views. “Flip” is almost comical in its cartoonish reproduction of a book (though the pages then become so small that you wouldn’t be able to read the text, while “Plain Text” is more like PG’s formatting. “Classic” and “scroll” are the easiest for reading, though I did use “Thumbnail” view to check out all of the prefatory pages at once.
As far as I could tell, none of these platforms allowed for a reporting of errors. The closest option is that Google Books allows you to “review” the text, so I suppose one could also report frustrations with errors, etc., if only for other potential readers. I’ve already mentioned some features I like—HATHITrust viewing options—but each platform has several functional perks. I don’t have a Kindle, but PG’s Kindle downloads are clearly a useful resource, since Kindles allow you to keep the text in your own collection (on a single device) and annotate as you please (depending on the version of your Kindle). If reading the eBook version of a PG text online, you can keep “bookmarks,” but I wasn’t quite sure how this worked—if you could bookmark pages within a text, or only text themselves. When I clicked “My Bookmarks,” PG remembered which texts I was reading (Volumes I and II of The Marble Faun) but it didn’t seem to notice which page I was on. PG allows one to “Go To” a certain page, but there aren’t any search features for finding certain words or phrases within the text. Google Books and HATHITrust offer many more search options. With GoogleBooks, there is a simple search bar, for finding words or phrases (which than appear highlighted in yellow and noted in the scrolling bar). Google Books converts chapters into hyperlinks on the contents page, so that you can jump to various chapters and sections. You can also access these jumps via a drop-down bar above the text. With a Google account, you can add books to your library and view your history, you can make lists, such as “Favorites,” “To Read,” “Reading Now” and “Have Read,” and like I mentioned before, you can write reviews. Many of these features are replicated with HATHITrust, and there’s also a “Share” feature in the left-hand column. I would imagine it’s easy enough to copy the link to a PG or Google Book, but I thought it was interesting that HATHITrust supplies a “Permanent link” for each of its texts, in clear view for the reader.
Aside from the Preview restrictions I experienced with the Penguin Classics version I originally viewed with Google Books, I didn’t experience any restrictions. It’s nice working in the 19th century, because so many things are part of the Public Domain (my HATHITrust version of The Marble Faun noted this, with a link to explain the details of the Public Domain) and available through (very) open access. I particularly enjoyed PG’s note to readers, “This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.”
I agree with Kathryn’s concluding comments below–online reading seems to have a long way to go. Right now, I think these sources are excellent for those readers who wish to read digitally, but not necessarily academically. This is a bit of a personal preference, but I’ve used online resources far more often for critical texts I want to preview and search for themes and terms, rather than for full literary texts I wish to read from start to finish. I remember once when I was abroad reading an entire collection of George Moore’s short stories on PG, but that was because I didn’t want to purchase more books than I could take home with me (which does point to the financial and material benefit of these online resources). But in terms of my anecdotal introduction, I will definitely finish The Marble Faun with my text edition from Oxford World Classics, which I can carry with me (I don’t have an ereader), annotate and keep on a physical bookshelf.