Monday, December 31, 2012
Ending the year reading Anna Karenina on my Chromebook
I'm closing out the year reading Anna Karenina on my Chromebook. Our Christmas movie was the new film version, Joe Wright's take on a classic novel adapted to film many times -- some memorable, as Terence Rafferty notes, and some not. Loved it, despite feeling that the characters of Anna (Keira Knightley) and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) were somewhat miscast and misconceived (to me Knightley seems more like Elizabeth Bennett than Anna Karenina, and Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky seems too shallow a boy toy compared to some of the memorable Vronskys of the past like Sean Connery).
It's impossible to do justice to this entire, long and sprawling novel in a two hour movie. Most movie adaptations err by reducing it almost entirely to Anna's tragic love story, at the expense the rest of the book and its many characters. If anything, this errs in the opposite direction. Wright's use of stage elements creates a magical world of artifice and illusion that evokes the way the late 19th century Russian aristocracy lived as if on a stage, isolated from the suffering of the people around them. The movie is filled with memorable visuals and characters, including Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kitty (the remarkable young Swedish actress Alicia Vikander). It's a movie I'd like to see again.
The movie also made T and me both want to go back and read the original (I used to think I had read Anna Karenina long ago, but when watching the movie I realized I had only read about it and seen movie and television versions.) We both downloaded inexpensive e-book versions from Amazon, and I found that the Chromebook makes a pretty comfortable e-book reader. The experience is a lot like reading on a tablet, with "pages" displayed side by side. The Chromebook is so light it nestles lightly on your lap for reading, or you can hold it even closer, with the keyboard serving as a base.
After a year of living with the Kindle, I've started relying on it for long books, while continuing to read shorter books in print editions. The e-book version is easier to handle than a big book (especially a big paperback with small print and tiny margins), and easier to search for passages I want to revisit, while smaller books continue to feel more natural in print editions. Karenina, of course, is about as long as they come.
I might read more e-books if pricing were more reasonable and publishers made more books available to libraries at a reasonable price. We really wanted to read Karenina in the new translation -- but at $15.00, nearly $3.00 MORE than the paperback (in what universe does that make sense?), it was just too pricey to buy copies for both of our Kindle accounts. So we're reading the old Maude translation (which was also the version used for the movie).
I know that getting rid of dead trees doesn't, and shouldn't, make e-books free. Publishers provide valuable services, which need to be paid for, and authors deserve to be adequately compensated. At the same time, electronic publishing removes more costs from the publishing equation than just printing and paper. There's also the cost of distribution, warehousing and returns. It makes no sense for an e-book to cost MORE than a print edition.
I look forward to a time when e-publishing really takes off, once publishers truly adapt their business models to a digital world that should make possible win-win pricing for both publishers and consumers. And where they no longer insult us with prices that are actually higher than the price of an 862-page paperback.