21 August 2013

What Fell Out of 52 Pickup

It was a warm, clear day when I heard that crime novelist Elmore Leonard had died after well over eighty years and forty books. That news reminded me that I’d been meaning to write about the experience of recently reading one of his novels—52 Pickup, to be exact—in digital form.

Like many caper novelists, Leonard wrote lots of short scenes and jumped from one point of view to another as needed. When one of those shifts occurred within a chapter, his print publisher followed the usual format of leaving extra space between the end of one section and the start of another. If those blank areas wound up at the bottom or top of a typeset page, the publisher hauled out the simple • dingbat to alert readers to the otherwise hard-to-spot section break. 

Typesetting conventions for ebooks are different, however. Most notably, the standard ebook format follows most web pages (including this one) by putting an extra line space between paragraphs and not indenting the first line of each new paragraph. 

In converting 52 Pickup to its digital format, HarperCollins ebooks reformatted the paragraphs: no indent, extra space in between. But it also wiped out the extra spaces between one section and the next. If there was a dingbat on the printed page, the • also appeared in the digital form, but most shifts from one point of view and scene to another come with no such signal for readers. That meant Leonard’s transitions, originally smooth, were bumpy, requiring me to notice the shift, stop, and look back to confirm when it happened.

The copyright page of the 52 Pickup ebook says it was converted in 2002. I hope the process has grown more sophisticated since, but then I’d hope it would have been applied to older books. It’s an easy fix, and Leonard and his readers deserve better. 

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