A Token of My Extreme

There are 728 pins and nine pounds of plastic and cardboard hidden within this shirt.

1. I had to do a spot of clothes shopping recently to have some fresh duds for the new job. This is among my least favorite things in the world to do, since left to my own devices, and in a vacuum, I would spend all of my waking moments wearing loose fitting gym shorts and a t-shirt, ideally with a grocery store or progrock logo on it. I wouldn’t own a pair of socks, either, if I didn’t have play nice in proper society. Or shoes, when you get right down to it. My feet get on just fine without such extravagances. But, anyway, life is what it is, and expectations are what they are, so I dress the part in the corporate world, and I do it well, when I need to. I bought three new dress shirts at one store last week and upon getting them home, I went through the usual insane ritual of removing pins, bits of plastic, strings with labels attached to them, cardboard, more plastic, more pins, and some little sacks with extra buttons or collar stays in them. I have never been able to figure out why so much packaging is required for men’s dress shirts. I would be just as happy buying them hanging on hangars, where I could see the cuts of the collars and cuffs just as easily as I can when they are mounted with pins-plastic-cardboard, as though they were works of taxidermy determined to show you what shirts would look like if they were worn by two-dimensional, one-armed men. Shirt manufacturers, stop the madness!!!

Safe for the gym AND the hot tub!

2. I do most of my reading these days on a Kindle, wrapped in a zip-lock bag. Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, I’m a Philistine destroying centuries of literary tradition by sacrificing the magic of the printed page for the cold heartlessness of a hunk of plastic and silicon chips, and that does bother me on some plane, though not as much as it used to bother me when I wrecked expensive hard-cover books by sweating on them at the gym or dropping them in the hot tub. But, at any rate, one of the interesting features about reading books on a Kindle is that you get a little bar on the bottom of the page that marks your progress toward the end of the book as a percentage. I read a lot of nonfiction, so it has been really interesting to me to note how often I find myself at 65% or so, thinking I’ve got another solid day or two of reading ahead of me, only to find myself crashing to the end of the meaningful text, with 35% of my purchased product consisting of end-notes, bibliographies, author acknowledgements, indices, appendices and/or glossaries that I’m not actually interested in reading. Now, on a Kindle, there’s no cost to the publisher or the reader to providing these wasted pages, but it makes me wonder why publishing houses feel the need to provide all of that useless paper (for most readers) at the back of their print editions, when they have to factor paper and binding costs into their economic model. Wouldn’t it make more sense to end the print editions where the main text ended, with a little tag saying “If you really care about notes and cites and appendices, please visit our website at obsessedbookgeek.com”? My hunch is that they don’t do this, and that the end-notes and cites and other junk at the back of books are actually expanding in volume, because of fears about claims of plagiarism against the authors and publishers. That level of stringent documented rigor once only appeared in graduate school thesis papers, but it now seems to be a requirement for popular nonfiction as well. I did a totally unscientific survey on this topic by pulling a bunch of older nonfiction books off my personal library shelves, and I will note that many of the classics of the genre have virtually no post-text addenda in their printed editions. Why is this? I would welcome others’ thoughts on this trend, since I just find myself saying: Book publishers, stop the madness!!!

About J. Eric Smith
Executive Director, Salisbury House Foundation.

7 Responses to A Token of My Extreme

  1. Hmmm…interesting thoughts on e-book end-note madness. I’ll have to consider that, especially because I’m in the process of formating my book for e-delivery. So you’re saying I should skip the glossary definitionss of all the words I made up, the timeline detailing the demise of my relationship and my post-text musings about love and loss?

    Nah, just kidding. That does seem silly and superfluous. And I agree (as a Kindle Fire devotee) that a falsified sense of “progress” as defined by the bottom bar is deflating.

    And by the way, there’s got to be a sexier solution for your Kindle than a giant ziplock bag.

    And now, I’m off to conceptualize the Kindle Kondom…
    ;)

    • I actually did originally have a commercial Kindle Kondom, of a heavier duty plastic and with double ziplocks on the top. But it developed a leak, and I have found that ziplocks are a more cost effective, though admittedly less sexy, alternative.

  2. gina says:

    Re: hard cover books being destroyed by the hot tub. Imagine what it would do to the Kindle. Yikes!

    I don’t feel a bit guilty about being a Kindle aficionado. Now there’s no need for reading glasses, which had ruined a favorite activity. I love my Kindle!

    I was so sad when the progress bar showed lots to go on Mark Twain’s autobiography (the first book I read on my Kindle) but it was just notes etc.

    That was one thing I found to be a disadvantage on the Kindle relative to paper — not that the end notes are unnecessary (“Any nerds here who references endnotes?” Looks around. Weird lady sheepishly raises hand), but that it is easier to visit obsessedbookgeek.com when you want to view them than it is to go to the end of the e-book and back. Or maybe I am not that good at navigating yet. Anyway, with a paper copy, flipping back and forth is fine.

    The Twain book did have an obsessedbookgeek.com companion, BTW. I used it!

    • I will skim endnotes sometimes . . . if they add insight and value, but having hundreds of pages of cites and references with no value added (other than butt-covering, or charting a course for future researchers) leaves me cold. Also, in the same way that film credits have gone from 15 seconds of simple black and white text to 15 minutes, with soundtrack, book acknowledgments also seem to have grown ridiculously over the years, with the simple and elegant dedication at the start of the book now trumped by dozens of pages at the back of the book explaining how the dog-sitter, the ice-cream man, the lady on the train, and Ivor the Engine Driver all played key roles in the existence of the tome in hand . . .

  3. I don’t think we need fear Kindle or other e-readers as marking the death of print. All these things will take their place; I think we’ll end up with a wider range of media from which to choose. At this stage, certainly, e-books can’t replace the big picture hardback. But I think they’ll probably make major inroads into – and maybe completely supplant – print when it comes to disposable airport paperbacks, romance novels and the like. One cool feature my wife discovered is that if you’re reading a book via Kindle app on your phone, the Kindle itself syncs in to where you’ve got to. Handy.

    Great Zappa references, incidentally! I often try and work one, somewhere, into the books I write books – irrespective of the topic. Usually works, because he was so eclectic.

    • I’ve used songs by The Who, the Bee Gees, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and FZ to tag omnibus posts like this one over the years . . . . it’s rare that anybody makes the connection, so thanks for noticing, in that regard!

      In re Kindle vs print . . . I know it doesn’t really signal the end of an era, in a literal sense, but I am such a paper devotee (newsprint, textbooks, glossy magazines, etc.) that I feel I cannot go gentle into that good night of digital journalism without rage, rage, raging against the dying of the (pulp-based) light . . . even though as a long-time blogger, I am one of the first to bow and all hail the new flesh of a post-tree based information economy . . .

      Just for the record here, knowing you are from New Zealand . . . your nation really, seriously punches well above its weight-class when it comes to music, as I’ve spent much of the past 30 years listening to scads of music produced by the extended Split Enz family (both the Judd and the Finn lines), supplemented by oodles of Christchurch and Dunedin bands on the Flying Nun label, with the Bats, the Clean, the Chills, Chris Knox and the Dead C high on my all-time list of awesome bands . . .

      And to think that most citizens of the U.S of America think you’re only good for background scenery for “Lord of the Rings” movies . . . . tsk tsk tsk . . .

      • Thanks. I’ve been meaning to post on our music scene here – I was involved in it slightly myself…might do so this week. It’s pretty vigorous and a good deal more international now than it used to be.

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