Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The Electric Literature blog has a post by Nora Fussner on a new iPad app of The Waste Land, which includes the poem read by Eliot, Ted Hughes, Fiona Shaw and others, a facsimile of the typescript edited by Pound, and much more.  Toward the end Fussner comments that it would be nice if other books had the benefit of such an app; she mentions The Last Samurai, which could have clips from the Kurosawa film and translation of the lines in Greek.

I am all for an iPad app with clips from the film (always supposing Toho could be persuaded to cooperate).  In fact, I love the idea of an app that offers more help with Greek than was included in the book. But, um, to the best of my knowledge all lines in Greek within the text ARE translated, and with one exception (a brief quotation from the Odyssey) they are also transliterated. 

(I am only too conscious of the fact that pages offering this help are not especially well designed - when cobbling them together in, if memory serves, WordPerfect 7, I imagined, in my innocence, that they would be handed over to a professional designer who would produce something handsome on the page.  As it happens, the designer and typesetter seem to have seen the Greek, Old Norse and Japanese as tricky stuff they could not reasonably be expected to tackle, so those bits of the text were left pretty much the way they were in the wordprocessed submission.  (The Japanese looked better in the original document, having been typed in using software suitable for Japanese, rather than plonked in as graphics objects in a vanilla Quark file.)  But enough of King Charles' Head.)


Satia said...

I am currently reading (and adoring) The Last Samurai. I have to schedule when I will read it because I am tempted to consume it but there are other demands on my time and life.

My only regret is that I borrowed it from the library. I am absolutely going to buy a copy for my son because I know he will adore it as well.

I think the idea of using the new way of reading books (I'm so old school that I like the weight and feel of a "real" book over ebooks but I'm working on breaking through) as a way of taking the potential for text above and beyond the word on the page/screen. It's not unlike how children's book became more popular when printing became less expensive and the ability to add illustrations became less prohibitive as well. And again, you see the shift in picture books when printing in color became easier.

Now, with ebooks, there is this potential to expand the definition of "literary text" above and beyond. Some books simply scream for such things and I can appreciate how much fun it would be to have a link within the book that allowed me to see the clip of The Seven Samurai when it is referenced in The Last Samurai.

But I'm still so old school that I can also pull my dvd copy of the former while I'm reading the latter, if I am so inclined.

I truly can't wait to share this book, though. I'm beyond excited about it.

Helen DeWitt said...

I'm so glad you like it; I hope your son does. It seems rather a shame that expense prevents color being used in the design of adult books; that does seem to be an area where the iPad, at least, opens up more possibilities.

Daryl said...

To be fair, QuarkXPress, or at least the version available when The Last Samurai was in production, was hideously difficult to use with non-Roman scripts, especially right-to-left scripts such as Hebrew, or scripts that require a larger nominal size for legibility, such as Japanese. Even non-Western-European diacritics were unreasonably difficult. (I say were because I have long since switched to InDesign -- perhaps more recent versions of QXP are better; certainly the more robust OpenType support would be a huge help. But they haven't improved the dreadful H&J, so perhaps not.) I can understand that such problems plus deadline pressure might well lead to less than optimal results. Of course it can be done -- I used QXP for a long book in English with Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, with long footnotes and marginal notes, and matching the layout of the original French edition -- but you have to want to and you have to have the time and the budget. (This was a project of a noncommercial publisher, so although I had no budget to speak of, I could take all the time I needed.)

Helen DeWitt said...

I know that version of Quark was not conducive to typesetting the book. That was one reason I did not want to publish the book at that stage. I thought I would need to be in a very strong position to insist on having the right software used - I had seen some books beautifully typeset using NisusJ, but few typesetters were likely to know it, and I thought I would have problems. (As, indeed, I did.) My understanding is that Quark Xpress 8 Plus is very good for multilingual typesetting; I don't think it can do Hebrew or Arabic without an extension, but it can do Japanese.