Reflective moment

I finished the draft Aladore EPUB a few posts ago, but still haven’t polished up the file…

Right now its just raw text and images in HTML crammed an EPUB package.  Yes its an EPUB, but its not a BOOK yet!  There is a few steps left, I am close–but hang in there, I am not ready to share just yet.

However, I had to give a couple minute introduction (Digital Aladore elevator speech) and write up a summary post about the project recently.  It has some background information and thoughts about the process, so I though I would repost it here:

Digital Aladore is a blog documenting a project to create a e-reader friendly e-book edition of the obscure early fantasy novel Aladore.

Background bibliography: https://digitalaladore.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/aladore-bibliography

Tool bibliography: https://digitalaladore.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/tools-bibliography

I first came across Aladore because I love the early fantasy works of William Morris that were published between 1850-1900. Morris’ “prose romances” were highly influential in developing the fantasy genre we know today, inspiring writing such as C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Aladore is clearly influenced by Morris’ style and prose—a fantastic allegorical romance set in an invented world, told with archaic language and narrative styling. Henry Newbolt (1862-1938) was a famous poet in Britain, best known for his stirring patriotic verse—which also caused him to be ignored and forgotten in the post-war disenchantment with the propagandist use of duty and nationalism. He did not write any other work in the genre of Aladore.

I conceived of a project to create a reading edition of a public domain work because I love reading old books and I love reading on my e-reader. I also love free stuff—cost free and freedom free stuff! (like Free software)

Better known public domain authors, such as William Morris, have many good free ebook editions available from organizations such as Project Gutenberg or commercial vendors such as Feedbooks. Print editions of Aladore were digitized by the Internet Archive, but a true ebook edition was never created. The digitized versions can be read in an online viewer or downloaded as an image-based PDF [see: https://digitalaladore.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/digitized-aladore ]. Internet Archive also provides numerous other formats derived from automated OCR. Unfortunately, the quality of OCR is very poor and there has been no attempt to edit the resulting text. Furthermore, the image-based PDFs are too highly compressed, requiring extensive rendering time in any PDF reader. Basically, You have a choice between a gibberish filled automatically generated EPUB or a low quality ridiculously slow and cumbersome PDF. This makes for a horrible reading experience!

So, I started reading Aladore and thought: “I really need to convert this to an good EPUB.” And so Digital Aladore was launched early September 2014—exactly one hundred years after Aladore was first published!

The project provided a great opportunity to explore and learn about a huge variety of things that I only vaguely knew about at the beginning. Attempting to carry out tasks—then encountering issues—then searching for solutions—then articulating the ideas in the blog was a great way to build concrete skills and give body to theoretical concepts. I thought extensively about open formats, digital rights, implications of the public domain, and how to provide access. I also realized strange resonances with my academic background, such as exploring the digital text in terms of the traditional field of textual transmission.

I started with a clear outline and intended workflow. However, the actual work veered off pretty regularly as I pursued new discoveries, new tools, and new ideas—new distractions. I ended up spending more time evaluating and documenting multiple options to complete each step of the project, rather than just following a more expedient route to get things done. Basically, I spent too much time on it—but still haven’t completed the original outline or even published all my thoughts to the blog. Yet, I learned more than I intended to!

Blogging on WordPress was also a great experience. I continuously tweaked the Digital Aladore site to test solutions to different practical and theoretical considerations. Through comments, likes, and follows, I was able to connect with an interesting mix of other bloggers, some of who became important resources for the project.

The blog site was first intended to be totally minimalist to reflect the idea of reading on an e-reader. It gradually grew to include more features to make it more usable and more images to make it more interesting. However, the design continues to have a fairly stripped down aesthetic focused on reading. The first half of the content started out mostly theoretical and reflective, while the second half is much more technical and practical. I wish I could have made a better mix of the two, but there was so much technical workflow information that I wanted to document to make the blog a resource. Hopefully the reflective bits will catch up before too long.

Oh yeah, and the content on Digital Aladore is licensed CC-by-sa, and the ebook products are public domain. The tools focus on Free Software.

Digital Aladore is not done—so please follow along in the future and send your comments!

Some files:

Two Stories by Edgar Allan Poe relating to Blackwood’s Magazine (November 1, 1838) [an epub and pdf created for testing purposes early in the project], https://archive.org/details/PoeBlackwoodArticle

Gallery of Aladore’s illustrations, https://digitalaladore.wordpress.com/illustrations-gallery

Look for the EPUB soon!

 

 

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